Huguenot roots

Many people claim Huguenot family history if they have a French name in their ancestry, but the actual Huguenots were a specific group of Protestants from France who came over to the UK in two waves, one at the end of the 16th century, and the other in the 1680s.  Huguenot immigration continued in the second wave for decades, but the bulk of the people fleeing from France came in the ten years between 1680 and 1690. The word refugee entered our vocabulary at that time.

In the UK, the deaths in relation to religious differences, apart from the civil war, were mostly caused by a change of monarch or a change of religion on the part of a monarch.  Henry VIII changed from being a defender of the faith for the Catholics, to a Protestant, in order to be able to divorce.  English people had to change from Catholicism to Protestantism for Henry and his son Edward VI, then back to Catholicism for Bloody Mary I who was a Catholic, and back to Protestantism for Elizabeth I.  Most of the 100,000 people who died in those years were killed by the monarch or judiciary in relation to the laws which were applied to the Kingdom at the time.

In France it was quite different.  The religious wars of the 16th century involved the population in turning against each other on the grounds of religion.  Between the mid-1500s and the 1690s, three million people were killed, often by mobs from one group or the other, but mostly involving the deaths and persecution of Protestants at the hands of their fellow Frenchmen.  The St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in a few days in August 1572 is said to have resulted in between 5000 and 30,000 deaths around France.  Many families fled France at this point, and some of those arrived in the UK.  When Henry IV of France ascended the throne in 1598, he converted to Catholicism, but he enacted the Edict of Nantes, which gave considerable rights and protections to the Protestants.

After Louis XIV  started to rule in his own right, around 1661, he began to remove the rights and protections for the Protestants. By the time he instituted the “dragonnades” in 1681, which involved soldiers being billeted with Protestant families to persuade them to convert to Catholicism, many of those rights enshrined in the Edict of Nantes had been removed or undermined. In 1685 he enacted the Edict of Fontainbleau, which essentially revoked the Edict of Nantes and made it dangerous to be a Protestant in France. Men were forced on route marches to become galley slaves on the galleys I hadn’t even realised were still in use in France.  Women could be condemned to Convents where the average life span was between four or five months after entry.  Many people were subject to terrible privations and torture in an effort to get them to renounce their faith.  Escaping the country was not an easy (or cheap) option, but it offered a way for many families who could see no future for themselves in France.

The first problem encountered by a family historian when researching Huguenot Ancestry is the problem of names. Most people who are familiar with English ancestry will know that it is foolish indeed to insist that your ancestors always spelled your name the way you do.  Often it was the most educated person in the room, the vicar or church official, who would decide how a name was spelled, particularly if the person concerned needed to mark an X instead of signing their name.  With French Huguenot names, this is exacerbated by the fact that they may have attempted to anglicise their name, or if they were recording a ceremony in an English church, the person registering the event may have had no idea how a French name was spelled.  Sometimes even marriages in the French Huguenot churches have very inventive spelling of names.  For one family of Saumons, I have found Somon, Semon, and Salmon given as their name.  For some names I have found dozens of variations.  Think about how the name sounds, and then how an English person or French person may spell it.

The Huguenot Society has been printing documents related to Huguenot ancestry for well over a century, and many of these documents are available on the Internet Archive.  They can be rather confusing.  For some reason they saw no problem in releasing proceedings documents with volume numbers, and different documents, such as registers from the French Churches in England, also with volume numbers.  The problem is that these seem indistinguishable, often, on the internet archive, and it can be very difficult to find what you want there.  I am thus setting up a new page in the free resources section, to list the publications with links to the documents on the Internet Archive.  The Internet Archive does have a search function once you find the right book, however, I should warn you that Duval, Du Val, Du Vall and Duvall require four separate searches there, and the Duvall search will not turn up the Duval.  For that reason, and for the chance of spotting other variations, it may be better to use the physical index in the back of most of the books, and search through for the variants of any names.

There are many books about the various aspects of the oppression in France, and the escape to the UK, which will be of interest to a family researcher and give some colour to a story if you are short on the actual details.  I am including some of those books, where available on the Internet Archive, in my list.

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