Making French Genealogy Easier

How It Began

How Could an ‘English Language Only American’, have the audacity to create a French Genealogy Research Website?

By years of help by volunteer genealogists who have taught me how to recognize French church and civil documents, recognize and read words and phrases. Now, I want to past what I’ve learned down to others researching their French Ancestry.

In the beginning of my French ancestry quest, all I had was my grandmother’s name, great-grandparent’s names and the countries they came from (France & Belgium). 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. them. 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 tweens. 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, and Geneanet opened their doors. French Genealogy email groups were popping out of the long 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 backups. My 1 yr of French from school was dead as my ancestors. So….

How was an English language only person to find and gather the information  if you didn’t know the language?  That was a major block;  you visit a website in French,  now what? How can you find a French Genealogist or volunteer for free who will  help you translate or tell you what the website or document says or tell you where to go and how to do it? One who can read the sloppy handwriting on documents? One that will help you understand the French church and government way of genealogy recording?  One who could decipher Latin in early church records?

I signed up at a Walloon email group, I cried ‘Help” and French genealogy volunteers came to the rescue! It didn’t matter that I didn’t know French, they just wanted to help

Thanks to FamilySearch for providing help in writing to French language people. I added a couple other blurbs to help

This is what I usually start with

  • “Je suis un(e) americain (I am an American).
  • Je n’ecris pas bien le français (I do not write French well).
  • Je suis désolé(e)e (I am sorry) or just ‘désolé(e) (sorry).
  • Puis-je vous écrire en anglais? (May I write to you in English)
  • (or) Puis-je écire en anglais? (may I write in English?)

In France, you had to know the right town and year, or at least a good idea of the year of the occurrence for their town archivist to check. Back in my day, the resources you see now, many of them were not available. So scour, scour away we go.

Now, spoiled ones,  it won’t take years, months and weeks to get help anymore. With a few clicks, you can easily access help from many different online sources including indexed towns, repositories and documents.  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 FamilyHistory  and 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.

To answer the question at the top of the page; What does one do when you have gone through the crucible of long, hard nitty -gritty of years of 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 (formerly a la French Genealogy) and since then, it’s expanded beyond tutorials to include resources, department archives, databases, navigation guides, to helpful information on censuses, military enlistment help and more is on the way!

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