Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Napoleon's soldiers

Following my previous posts on newly digitized French military archives here and here, there has been another release of personal records from French military archives, but this time from the Napoleonic period.

The archives are those from groups GR 20 YC and GR 21 YC at the Service Historique at Vincennes (here). GR 20 YC is the register of recruits of the Garde Consulaire, the Garde Impériale, and the Garde Royale, for the period 1802-15, and includes all arms - infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers, train des équipages, administration section and gendarmes d’ordonnance. Or so the accompanying text says. If you actually look at the individual registers, those of the Guard infantry actually start in 1799.

GR 21 YC covers similar records over the same period for the line infantry, from the 1er to the 156e Regiments.

So, click on the Faire une recherche button. This takes you to a data entry screen. You can search by keyword, archive piece number, arm of service, type of unit, or unit. In the spirit of adventure, then, I picked a common name - Lefèvre - and stuck it in the Keyword box, to see what results it would bring. And the answer was Zero. So I tried another common name - Dupont - and tried again. 

Bingo! I got five hits, but only in the Guard archives. I click on the single page icon at the end of the line, and this brings up the screen of results. The first three lines are false hits - they are simply derived from the indexing heirarchy. Then it immediately becomes apparent that each record is not indexed, because the only hits are to volumes GR 20 YC 25 Degouy à Dupont and GR 20 YC 26 Dupont à Gardegarot, ie where my actual search term, Dupont, figures in the title of the archive piece.

Click on the double page icon to see the actual digitized record. This takes you to another screen, where you need to click on Consulter les images. The results open in a new window. Just as an example of the kind of info that is available, the last Dupont in GR 20 YC 25 is Bernard Dupont, number 25,000, the son of Jacques and Jeanne Saler, born on 26 July 1793 at Clarac in the Hautes-Pyrénées. He was called up in 1813, and on 26 October was posted to the Compagnie de Réserve of the Haute-Garonne. Three days later, he was posted to the 13e Tirailleurs of the Guard, and then on 1 January he was transferred to the 7e. He took part in the campaigns in France in 1814, but was hospitalized on 4 March 1814. There is nothing further, neither the reasons for his hospitalization (illness or battlefield casualty), the hospital into which he was admitted, nor whether he ever left the hospital.

So if you are inconsiderate enough to want to look for a name that isn't in the name of an individual piece, what do you do? Start again at the data entry screen, and click on the top button Consulter l'état des fonds. This takes you to a largely blank screen with a menu in the left side bar. Click on one of the two entries there, depending on whether you want Guards or line infantry. This brings up another link in the centre of the screen, Consulter l'instrument de recherche. Click on that, and the side bar fills up with regimental names. Click on the regiment to see the list of volumes for each unit, then click on the appropriate year/volume, then click on Consulter les images.

However, unlike those of the Guard Tirailleurs, most of the other volumes are not arranged alphabetically, but by date of joining the unit, which makes the lack of indexing all the more frustrating. It would be difficult for any genealogist to trace a family member with only the name to go on. If you are simply interested in the men of the various regiments as a body of men, then there is much information to be gleaned here.

As an example of what the Old Guard volume can contain, Number 1 of the Consular Guard in Nivôse Year 8 (that's January 1799) was Michel Nicolas Cretté, the son of Joseph François Cretté and Marie Antoinette Cumelee, born on 12 March 1753 at St Germain-en-Laye (Seine-et-Oise). His hair was light chestnut, he had a high forehead, grey eyes, a big nose, average mouth, a cleft chin and a round, flushed face. He had joined the Gardes françaises on 9 February 1769; transferred to the Garde de la prévoté de l'hôtel on 1 August 1775 as a grenadier; and from there found his way into the Garde de la Représentation Nationale and then the Garde des Consuls. He was promoted to corporal on 15 September 1792, and to sergeant in the Year 4. A particular note was made of his participation in the 1793 and 1794 campaigns with the Armée de l'Ouest. He served on the regimental staff (petit Etat-Major). He was sent on leave pending retirement on 1 July 1814.

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