I have just returned from a research trip to Alsace Lorraine, France to see if I could break a brick wall. The lead up to and actual experience contains several teachable components which I will attempt to share.
First, some personal background. My grandmother was born in Weitbruch, France near Strasbourg in 1882. She was brought to this country as a 10 year old in 1892. She was my grandfather’s third wife, married in 1904, and she died in 1980. I spent many days of my formative years in her home and presence. But of course I had little interest in France or her ancestry then. She often served Hungarian Goulash (a German dish) but often sang the Marseillaise (French national anthem) so she clearly reflected the history of the Alsace region and its back and forth national identity. I was too young to learn much more than that from her.
Point: Learn all you can from and about relatives who are older before they pass on, through biographies or recorded interviews.
Second, some information on France. The Alsace Lorraine section has many Civil records and many Church records and you will find them written in German, French and Latin. These records exist from 1792 just after the Revolution to 1937, given the 75 year rule. Where the U. S. has a 72 year rule on public availability of records, France has a 75 year rule. The law in France dictates that a child can not be removed or left out of a will. (This can lead to interesting circumstances and did in my case.) The witness to an event is often a teacher, relative or friend. In this region covering many villages and cities there is a genealogy association of some 100 members called Fan-Genealogie, and they have a most useful web site, with a $15 annual fee. There is also for Europe another web site named geneanet.org, some of which is free.
Point: Understand the area of interest, its rules, laws and resources. This requires work and follow through as well as persistance.
Whether one attends family reunions, uses WorldConnect on Rootsweb, reads genealogy magazines or other efforts, while collecting data of the moment, the prime effort should be to collect names and addresses of others with the same interests. Here’s one of my stories. Two years ago I read in the NEHGS magazine American Ancestors an article by a James R. Miller entitled Philatelic Genealogy Update. He was living part time in Haguenau, France to research his ancestors. I wrote him, he called me (since overseas calls in France are free) and he in turn identified a member of FAN-Genealogie who was “the expert” on the hometown of my grandmother, Weitbruch, 20 miles south of Haguenau. The expert sent me 5 full generations of ancestors of my grandmother. During the intervening two years I joined geneanet.org and for my surnames I recorded the e-mail addresses of those with the same names as mine from Weitbruch or nearby. As I prepared for my trip to Alsace I e-mailed each person and asked them for dinner and for help. Some lived elsewhere, but some showed up.
Point: Collecting names and addresses of other researchers and maintaining contact is critical to progress in genealogy.
Two years ago I was told the vital records were available only in Strasbourg and would cost €5 each. The money was to me a problem but less challenging than how to get the money to Strasbourg. They have no PayPal. On this trip to Alsace I learn from Mr. and Mrs. Miller that the records for Department 67 in which I am interested are all on line and free and have been for just a few months. There are 100 departments in France and many are now up in the same context. Some are not. But here is how I get to Department 67, in which I am interested.
Alsatian parish registers and vital records can be seen at: http://archives.cg67.fr/. Scroll down to the picture with “Adeloch” and click on “Acceder aux registres.” At the bottom of the next screen, mark the box “J’accepte ces condition,” by which you’re saying you won’t sell the images you save, place them on the internet, or show them to people outside your family, and that you’ll always identify the source code (shown on the screen with the images you download) and show the Archives départementales du Bas-Rhin as the repository. Once you have a check-mark in the box, click on “Acceder à la version graphique” (which may require Adobe Flash).
You’re now presented with a keyboard in a AZERTY format rather than a QWERTY which we have in the US. Start to type the name of a village you’re interested in. For Weitbruch, after you type W E, the screen will have Weitbruch, and you click on the village name.
Now you’ll see a virtual bookshelf with the registres. (Key: BMS=baptemes, mariages, sepultures; NMD=naissances, mariages, et décès; TD=tables décennales, which are like indexes for 10-year periods). From 1792 to 1807 the Revolutionary calendar was in use; A 1= year 1, etc. You’ll find a conversion chart to change these dates into regular calendar dates at http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/calendar/, scroll down to French Republican Calendar. The FAN-généalogie website (http://fan-genealogie.org/) has background information on the calendar in the Main Menu, Dossiers pratiques, Calendriers.
I’d suggest you look at a register before plunging into the Revolutionary Calendar.
Pick a marriage from data with which you are familiar. Bring-up the appropriate register on your screen and find the act. A scroll bar at the bottom lets you move rapidly. There’s a + and – button on the top right to zoom in or out; use multiple clicks. The + and – buttons next to the sunshine icon lets you darken/lighten the image. Once you have something that you want to copy, click on “Imprimer” at the top of the screen. Use a screen capture program to make digital copies or the trusty Shift/Control/4 with a MAC. The acts are free. This is an incredible resource, now available in many departments, soon all of France.
Point: With some help from many other people and staying on top of the issues like payments and availability, one can truly advance one’s knowledge. And as in this example, locate hard to find documents which can stand as reliable Sources as opposed to using someone’s guess.