How Could an ‘English Language Only American’, have the audacity to create a French Genealogy Research Website?
By going through a long crucible of nitty-gritty research.
In the beginning, my French ancestry quest started in 1998. All I had was the names of my paternal grandmother’s , great-grandparent’s and the countries they came from . Beyond that, I knew nothing, absolutely nothing. Here in the states, I searched and ordered every kind of US document, death, probate, marriage, birth, ships lists, schools, newspaper clippings I could find on my father’s maternal long-dead family. Each piece took me a step further to trace them back to France and Belgium. It wasn’t until I came across a naturalization record in the US (the Belgian side), and a death record in Québec (the French side) that I had my big break.
Because of family skeletons, ‘wicked aunts’ and ugly family dysfunctions, my father did not past down any additional family information (nor the language of which he knew but denied he did) of them to me or my four brothers. In fact, he was very secretive about his mother and her parents. He seemed ashamed of them but wouldn’t give a reason why. And we all know what happens when holding secrets does to inquisitive minds of teens. You just NEED to know! That’s another story.
After years of fruitless on & off prodding of my father, I lost all hope. Then he died in 1999. And that was that. That is, until Rootsweb, Ancestry.com and Geneanet cropped up. French Genealogy email groups were popping out of (now defunct) Yahoo Groups. I now had a mission, I had plan, I had a path that would slowly lead me to answers, ancestors and documents. But, what a rude awaking. Everything was in French! No English translations! My 1 yr of French from school was dead as my ancestors. So….
After that grueling journey, I had the bright idea of starting a French genealogy help site to share what I had learned so far. So it began. In 2008 I named the site “a la French Genealogy” and it was located at genealoft.com. Soon, I realized the domain didn’t reflect a focused ‘French Genealogy’ , so ‘frenchgen.com’ was created. Years went by, I found the title too close to another French Genealogy’ s name, so that title was thrown out. I wanted a more focused, positive and intriguing title, so “Making French Genealogy Easier’ was born
How could I make researching French Genealogy target the concept of researching as attainable yet fun? Easy to navigate, yet oodles of needed skill building in obtaining information and documents. Genealogical content up to date and organized? An easy to understand approach to pave the way for successful outcomes. So it began, tutorials were created, useful genealogical content was added, French Genealogy sources were gathered and a short blurb about communicating with ‘Non-English’ language genealogists. Along the way, I had other helpful ideas to expand on, help navigate through the France Department archives and other repositories of genealogical gold mines.
How was an English language only person learn and navigate through scary French language pages if one didn’t know the language?
Now what? Where does one start? How can one find a French Genealogist volunteer to help translate or tell you what the website or document says? One who can read the sloppy handwriting on documents? Someone that would share genealogy trees to share? One that will help you understand the French Catholic church and government way of recording vital genealogy information? One who could decipher Latin in early church records?
I just cried “help” and wonderful people came to the rescue.
I scoured and scoured the internet for free online informational websites. This led to sites of Rootsweb, Geneanet, FamilySearch and Walloon and French email groups at (now defunct) Yahoo groups, (At that time, Ancestry.com was brand new and only had American records), I found and feebly wrote to volunteer genealogists at Geneanet.com and GenWalBru email group with an online English-French translation. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know French, they just wanted to help!
Now, spoiled ones, it won’t take years, months and weeks, as it has in the past, to get help anymore. With a few clicks, you can easily access help from many different online sources including searchable and browsable indexed towns, people and family trees, FamilySearch.com was the pioneer of indexing information from different countries. You can find answers to your questions on Geneanet’s forums. I love these guys! Ask anything, and you’ll have answers soon as possible. Both FamilySearch and Ancestry.com have forums as well, but I personally think Geneanet is far superior. You still might need to reach out to genealogy email groups of French Departments and Provinces of Belgium for help. One stepping stone of information, to another stepping stone of information, and so on. You can acquire a lot of help and information in half the time now, it makes my early French research look as if it was spawn from the medieval era.
The question now remains: What to do with all that knowledge on French genealogy research? Well, create a step-by-step, how-to guide of what you need to know and how to do it; to help other English language researchers to find and pluck out the vital information from handwritten French documents, understand, how to navigate the world of French Genealogy. So it began in 2010 with a modest amount of information. Since then, it’s expanded beyond tutorials to include resources, French department archives, databases, navigation guides, censuses, military enlistment help and more is on the way!