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Musée du Compagnonnage
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Which archives?

Having taken care to avoid the various traps mentioned above, you can confirm that an ancestor was in fact a “Companion” of the Tour de France by finding key-words in documents or by certain items that have come down to you.

With regard to vocabulary, guild members use specific words within the context of their internal relations. As guilds never had an official legal status, it is only in exceptional cases that public documents contain such terms as “Coterie”, “Region”, “Duty”, “Passage”, “white dog”, “gavot”, “mother”, “meeting-place”, “chamber”, “first in town”, etc. A few notarised documents from the Ancien Régime, however, mention nicknames. A stonecutter or mason could be designated by his surname followed by a nickname such as “known as ‘Goodness’” or “known as ‘Assurance’”. This is an interesting, if not absolutely infallible, indication that an individual once belonged to a guild during his youth. Similarly, province-related nicknames, such as “known as ‘Nantais’” or “known as ‘Bourguignon’” suggest the same thing. One should proceed with caution, however, as the use of nicknames was common in the past. On the other hand, a document which gives the complete nickname of a craftsman, such as “Tourangeau the Goodness” or “The Prudence of Chartres”, unambiguously demonstrates that the worker had been a guild member.

En général, les seuls documents publics où l’on peut trouver mention des compagnons sont les documents de police et les documents judiciaires (archives des sénéchaussées, bailliages, lieutenants de police, sous l’ancien Régime) et archives des tribunaux correctionnels, au XIXe siècle. Impliqués dans des rixes et des grèves, les compagnons déclinent leur identité et certains donnent le parcours complet de leur tour de France. Une mine pour le généalogiste ! Malheureusement, il est impossible de se lancer à l’assaut de ces montagnes d’archives sans savoir au préalable si le compagnon que vous avez identifié a eu maille à partir avec les autorités, en quelle ville et à quelle époque. Car beaucoup de compagnons accomplissaient leur tour de France de façon paisible ou réglaient leurs différends entre eux, sans que la police n’en sache rien.

The only public documents in which mention of guild members can be found are those of the police and the judiciary (in the archives of seneschalsies, bailiwicks and police lieutenants under the Ancien Régime) and in 19th-century criminal court archives. Guild members provided their identities after being arrested for brawling or participating in workers’ strikes and some gave the complete route of their Tours de France. Such information is a genealogist’s goldmine! Unfortunately, it is impossible to attack these mountains of archives without first knowing if the guild member one has identified had a brush with the law in a particular city in a particular period. Many guild members finished their Tours de France peaceably or settled their differences with other members without any police involvement.

You may also get lucky consulting municipal and county archives classified as “Série M”. From the 1830s to 40s, registration of statutes of mutual aid societies and associations, and sometimes of unions, together with comments made by mayors and prefects, enables the tracing of guild members who had attempted to have their societies recognised officially or who had individually joined other groups. Observations made by authorities, which sometimes ordered police investigation of the leaders of an association before authorising their activities, are a rich source of information on various guild members.

Private documents, once the property of a guild member and handed down from generation to generations, rarely go back beyond the 19th century. Such documents may be “business” or “square”, which is to say handwritten or printed papers that identified the guild member on his Tour. One may also find handwritten notebooks containing Companions’ songs, invitations to a patron saint’s feast-day celebrations (St. Joseph for carpenters, Saint Eloi for blacksmiths, Saint Anne for joiners, etc.), “aspirant cards” in certain corps (joiners and basket-makers), announcements of meetings, or subscription booklets. Rarer are a society’s membership rosters, or those listing fines, subscriptions, departures and arrivals or the rules of a “Duty” – all internal documents that might have been kept by a guild member functioning as a secretary, and preserved in his home after his death or after his society ceased to be active in his city.

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Musée du Compagnonnage

8 rue Nationale
37000 Tours
Tel: 02 47 21 62 20

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