Skip to comments.France: Families flock to look for the ancestors who lost their heads
Posted on 03/15/2008 12:16:38 AM PDT by bruinbirdman
It is the internet site that contains dark family secrets, unspeakable truths and appalling injustice. The French log on to it in trepidation and in private.
Les Guillotinés offers the most complete online list yet established of the French Revolutions victims and invites users to discover the answer to a terrible question: Do you have an ancestor who was decapitated? Hundreds of thousands of people have consulted the death base, created by Raymond Combes, a computer programmer and amateur genealogist.
Many more are likely to follow suit. According to one estimate, up to five million French people are descended from victims of La Révolution.
Take, for instance, Denis Sarazin-Charpentier, a 54-year-old civil servant from Boissy-Le-Châtel outside Paris. Like all his compatriots, he was taught as a child that the guillotine fell on evil aristocrats. Then he found out that Claude Louis Deligny, his own ancestor, had lost his head in 1794 when revolutionaries discovered a cache of coins stamped with the Kings head in the family grange.
He was condemned for plotting against the Revolution, but he was just a poor farmer and there was no plot at all, said Mr Sarazin-Charpentier. He only wanted to keep his money safe.
Mr Sarazin-Charpentier, an amateur historian, said that the site les. guillotines.free.fr showed they didnt just guillotine the nobility. There were farmers, peasants and commoners who were decapitated as well. More than two centuries later the subject remains highly sensitive in a country that sees the Revolution as its political bedrock.
Personally, I dont mind talking about my ancestor who was guillotined but I know families descended from the aristocracy who still cant bear to mention it. He added that France had tried to ignore the Terror in order to preserve the reputation of its revolutionaries because it was the Revolution that created our Republic and no one really wants to call all of that into question.
However, Mr Combess work may force historians to reappraise the period. According to the official figure 17,500 people were guillotined between 1792 and 1795. But Mr Combes already has more than 18,000 names on his site, which is based on lists compiled for the bicentenary of the Revolution in 1989 and from documents sent in by users.
A lot of those guillotined were never registered in official records, he said. Im adding names all the time. But I dont put anyone down unless they are accompanied by documentary evidence.
Nor has he included the tens of thousands of people massacred as violence swept across France at the end of the ancien régime. It was an important part of our history, said Mr Combes, 50. But Im not sure all that violence really served a purpose.
Slice of life
The Halifax Gibbet and the Scottish Maiden, forerunners of the guillotine, were used in the British Isles from the 13th century
The machine takes its name from Dr Joseph Guillotine, who pressed for a decapitation machine in France to make execution quicker and more humane
Many doctors have suggested that beheaded victims could remain conscious for up to 30 seconds after the blade fell
The blade weighed just over 40kg (88lbs) and dropped 2.3m on to the neck of the victim, at a speed of 7 metres/second
The last man to be executed by guillotine in France was Hamida Djandoubi who tortured and murdered his former girlfriend, Elizabeth Bousquet on September 10, 1977
Sources: napoleonguide.com; Oxford History of the French Revolution; BMJ; Book of Firsts, Patrick Robertson
Intense stuff. So much for the myth of ‘it was only aristocrats.’ The first victims of state terrorism.
I found my family name in there. I’m glad some of my family escaped to Canada.
I think my great-great grandfather was hanged when he was a young boy.
“I think my great-great grandfather was hanged when he was a young boy.”
how did he begat your great grandfather?
Maybe of interest?
Does the French name translate properly when the immigrant comes to North America or is it altered like most Irish and Italian immigrants? Just curious. A quarter of my Mother’s side is French and I wonder if I will need to research a proper French spelling.
My name has the “proper” spelling but there are many here with an Anglicized version as well.
Get used to head-chopping. You have let millions of members of the Religion of Peace into your country.
Pardon the pun. Some of the French aristocracy thought the Revolution was just a passing fad, but they still lost their heads over it.
Bookmark for reading later.
What is the point here? During the revolution, the new govt went to a pure fiat paper currency called the Assignat, which the govt hyperinflated. To force people to use the worthless paper, and prevent a parallel economy in still-circulating gold and silver coins, they made having or using or even offering to buy or sell in real coins a decapitation offence.
The revolutionaries even ran "sting" operations. "Hey farmer....psst....wanna sell that cow for some real silver?" If you said yes or maybe, "Off with your head!"
Now, with the dollar collapsing and gold and silver soaring, I wonder what our future will bring? In 1933, FDR banned private gold, and made it a law that you even needed an IRS agent to go with you to visit "your" property in your safe deposit box.
"Around the corner, we shall meet the past."
Holy crap, they decapitated someone in 1977??
how did he begat your great grandfather?
He got better.
......in such times bargaining power will come from the muzzle of a firearm anyway......
So your family escaped to Canada and then you moved to Vermont to live among liberals?
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