A Well-Regulated Militia

Geneanet.org is a genealogical website headquartered in Paris, France. It differs from ancestry.com in that Geneanet is a collaborative site where the members share in the effort of building family trees and supplying transcriptions of registers, both civil and parochial. The site has been around since the mid-nineties, and I was a regular visitor twenty years ago. At Geneanet, I could connect with fellow researchers in France, Switzerland, and Belgium. With their assistance, I was able to expand upon the discoveries made by my cousins in America.

Until a couple of days ago, I had not been on Geneanet in about ten years. While the site has not changed that much in terms of look and feel, I was pleased to learn that for $12 per quarter, I could search and view original documents from the regions of Switzerland and Eastern France. This was where ancestors on my father’s side lived for centuries. Some of the documents I had seen before, but I did make some new and exciting discoveries regarding the ancestors of my great-great-grandfather, Francis “Frank” Gaume (1843-1917).

Frank’s parents were both born in Montécheroux and a small town in Eastern France at the foot of the Jura Alps, a few miles from the Swiss border. Both families had deep ties to both sides of the border. Some branches originated in France, and others in Switzerland.

I was able to extend a couple of branches back to the 1500s. In one case, I learned of an ancestor who was a nobleman in that century and owned a fief in Switzerland. Also, I found a document dating from the 1500s: the military census for the County of Montbéliard.

The County of Montbéliard or Mömpelgard was a feudal county of the Holy Roman Empire from 1033 to 1796. Today it is the name of a town in the Doubs department in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France, about 8 miles from the border with Switzerland.

According to Wikipedia, In 1397, the county passed by the marriage of Henriette, heiress of the county, to Eberhard IV, Count of Württemberg, to the House of Württemberg. In 1520, the Swabian League ousted Duke Ulrich of Württemberg from the duchy. He retreated to Montbéliard, the only territory he still possessed. From then on, Ulrich used Montbéliard as a base of operations to raise troops to retake Württemberg. However, in dire need of funds, he decided to lease Montbéliard to his half-brother George. In 1534, still needing funds, Ulrich sold Montbéliard to Francis I of France, though with the right to repurchase, which Ulrich exercised after his restoration to Württemberg in 1536. Still governing Montbéliard as its count, George attempted to strengthen Lutheranism in the county, eventually entirely suppressing the other confessions.

It appears that this “military census” dated 1581 was ordered by George’s son, Frederick I, who was also the Duke of Württemberg. (At least, that is how I translate the first page).

At this time, the Eighties Years War, a conflict that raged throughout Europe, pitting Catholics against Protestants, was in its second decade.

The document is over 700 pages long. It is divided into sections for each town or village in the county. There are two or three pages for each locale listing men of military age, specifying the weapons each of them owns. The handwriting on the pages is challenging to read. Luckily, each page has an index listing the men in the order they appear on the page. Plus, there is a pop-up guide to aid in deciphering the script.

It is important to note that I can’t determine if any man listed in this 16th-century document is an ancestor of mine. At present, none of my family branches in Eastern France extend beyond the early 17th century. However, it serves as a guide for where I should be looking for those connections. Using a list of all the surnames of Frank Gaume’s end-of-line ancestors, I found almost 40 ancestorial candidates. Half the list belonged to two of the dozen surnames I searched for. The surname “Pequignot” was the most common, appearing ten times.

As I stated, without the index and a guide to paleography, I would not have been able to identify any of the names. Here is an example. The third name from the bottom of the list below is “Jacques Pequinot.” He and the other men on the list reside in the village of Exincourt, and each owns an “arquebuse et morion.”

An “arquebuse” or harquebus was a late medieval gunpowder weapon.

A “morion” was an iron helmet.

In a few cases, the information in the records supplies the individual’s occupation. For example, the entry below tells us that “Thainnot Pequignot” of the town of Mandeure was a “banvard” who owned a “hallebarde.” This means he was a “forest ranger,” a type of rural policeman who owned one of those long pikes with an axe towards the end. Thainnot and Jacques are possibly ancestors of my 5th great-grandmother, Marie Therese Pequignot. She was born in Sulce, a town not far from Mandeure or Exincourt.

Stayed tuned for more on this in later posts.


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