Archives départementales

Rescued Lives Part 2 – French Genealogy

Way back, months and months ago, before the wind and the rain and the Christmas, I blogged about some postcards and photos that I purchased in France …

Every so often I declare to myself that I’m going to research the families involved – more so the branch that came from the Deux-Sèvres départment, mostly because it is within this area that my parents live.

A view of Niort from the Sevre Niortaise river, Deux-Sevres, Poitou-Charentes region, France, May 2008 (via dynamosquito on Flickr)

A view of Niort from the Sevre Niortaise river, Deux-Sevres, Poitou-Charentes region, France, May 2008 (via dynamosquito on Flickr)

A few years ago I was in a supermarket looking at the magazines (I don’t mean Paris Match or Maison et Jardin) to get a view of the genealogical representation. I found a couple (I think the most I’ve found is 4 in one particularly large hypermarché) and upon leading through I found an article about the digitisation of French records in their local archives. (As an aside, one thing I’ve noticed about the French is that they may not be first out of the block with an idea, but when the grasp the nettle its with both hands and its done with gusto.) I noticed, with pleasure, that the archives for my parents’ départment was one of the top-rated for online digital access.


The Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres, located in the wonderful old town of Niort, has over 15,500 documents  in its collection, with its online catalogue broken into 4 areas:

  • Parish & Civil Registers (up to 1932 in places)
  • Napoleonic Cadastre (maps made of every commune between 1808 and 1846)
  • Census Returns (from 1836 until 1901 – although there are some earlier and a few communes up to 1911)
  • Military Matriculation Registers (from 1867 to 1921)
Napoleonic cadastral map 1833. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

Napoleonic cadastral map 1833. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

I have yet to attend the archives in person myself (I’m going to France for a fortnight in June, so who knows?), but I have to say that the online interfaces are pretty simple to use once you know what you’re looking for. There is also a lack of transcribed records so you’re often scrolling through page after page of civil records or census information before you get a hit on what you want.

Before you say it – yes, I’m very much aware of how lucky genealogists nowadays are with the sheer wealth of digitised data that comes complete with indices and search-by-name facilities – but occasionally you rub up against something that isn’t quite what you expect, or what you’ve become used to. Its a bit like stubbing your toe. And makes you appreciate what you do have all the more.

Luckily, from Louise’s identity card I knew her date and place of birth: 28 January 1912, St-Martin-de-Sanzay, Deux-Sèvres. Using the online records, I was able to find a copy of her birth entry.

Birth of Louise Baranger. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

Birth of Louise Baranger. Archives départementales des Deux-Sèvres

The details given are fantastic. Not only the usual information such as name, date and place of birth, and the name of the parents, but also the time of her birth (6pm), the age of her parents (25 and 17 respectively) and even an update with details of her marriage: 14 April 1936 in Chateaubriant to (what looks like) ‘Revie Jules Cyrile’ Gendron.

Given the somewhat tender age of the mother (Louise Amelie Ernestine Doublié), she and Louis couldn’t have been married much before this date. Indeed, it didn’t take long when searching backward, to find it on 17 October 1911, in St. Martin.


Some great extra details here: occupations, ages, birth dates and places of both parties, with names – including maiden names of the mother! – of all the parents.

Given the fact that Amelie was around 6 months pregnant at the time of the marriage (and 7 years younger than the groom), it would be easy to assume that it was a marriage that was forced upon her after the nasty man had his wicked way with her. However, reading the correspondence between them, both from before the marriage and afterwards, it is clear that the pair were very much in love.

At the bottom of the page is a list of the witnesses, and a collection of signatures:


Victor Baranger is mentioned in the postcards regularly, so its good to get it confirmed that he was Louis’ brother! It also seems that there is a connection between the Doublié and Doublet families – so much so that initially Amelie signs her name as Doublet and then crosses it out.

The birth entry for Amelie confirms everything, including a stamped addition of her marriage. There is also a handwritten note of the date and location of her death, in 1972.

Amelie and her parents are in Moutiers-sous-Argenton, the village of her birth, in the 1896 census:

Recensements de population MOUTIERS-SOUS-ARGENTON 1896

Recensements de population

The family are still there in 1901, and Amelie has been joined by a younger brother, Joseph, born in 1897. The 1906 shows a 3rd child, Josephine, born in 1903. Unfortunately the censuses available online end there, but by 1911 the family are living in St. Martin.

After several hours scrolling through birth, marriage and death records along with umpteen different census returns, I have managed to compile a rough tree for Louise Gendron, nee Baranger. I’ll fill it in over the next few days with the people mentioned in the postcard collection, but in the mean time here it is:

Vertical Pedigree Chart for Louise Baranger