The Napoleonic Code

Jean Germain Voisard was the mayor of Montecheroux, France from 1815 to 1826. He was a fifth great grandfather on my father’s side. As the “maire” of the commune he was first and foremost a bureaucrat whose main responsibility was enforcing the regulations of the “Code civil des Français” – also known as the Napoleonic Code.

Msr. Voisard was born in 1754 and he was 35 years old when the revolution began in France. Following the defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, a 15-year period of peace and prosperity began for France. This period was known as the Bourbon Restoration.

Even though the monarchy was restored the bureaucracy created during the revolution remained. As an officer of the state, one of Msr. Voisard’s responsibilities was making a record of every birth, marriage, and death (BMD) occurring within his jurisdiction. These records were to be kept in a format specified in detail within pages of the so-called Napoleonic code. Each set of life-altering events were kept in a sperate book. At Geneanet, I found a collection of the death records for Montecheroux covering the years 1818 to 1862. As far as I can tell the format used in 1804 was the same used in 1807, and the same in 1815 and 1826.

Here for example is an entry from February 1826. Every record begins the same way, an introduction of the mayor and the witnesses who appeared before him. This part takes up nearly half the record.

Translation: “In the year 1826 on the afternoon of the 6th of February before Jean Germain Voisard, mayor, officer of the state for the commune of Montécheroux, Canton of Sainte Hippolite, department of Doubs there appeared Jacques Gueutal, age 60 years, a watchmaker, uncle of the deceased, and Nicholas du Commun-dit-Veron, age 39, farmer, cousin of the deceased. Both men live in Montécheroux.”

The middle part of the record gets to the heart of the matter and in the case of the death record it tells us who died, when they died, and where they died. But none of these records ever inform us of the cause of death.

In the case of the February 6, 1826, record we are told that a 6:00 o’clock in the morning Jacques Frederick Maler age 30 years, occupation ???, who lived in Montécheroux, who was the son of the late Frederick Maler and Marie Gueutal, died at his mother’s home in Montécheroux.

There is nothing in the record that says anything about the circumstances of a 30-year-old man dying at 6:00 o’clock in the morning at his mother’s home. The record concludes with the prerequisite statement that the witnesses signed the record after it was read to them by the mayor. Below this the two witnesses and the mayor sign the record.

That is the next to the last record entered by Jean Germain Voisard. On the following page is a record labeled “Voisard Jean Germain.”

The record translates to:

“In the year 1826, on the 30th of May at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon there appeared before me, Victor Miquelet, adjunct officer of the commune of Montécheroux, in the Canton of Sainte-Hypolite, in the department of Doubs, the following: Jean Joseph Voisard, age 49, farmer, son of the deceased, and Joseph Faivre, age 42, farmer, son-in-law of the deceased, who both live in Montécheroux, declared that today at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, Jean Germain Voisard, mayor of Montécheroux, age 72 years a resident of Montécheroux, husband of Marie Angelique Loichat, and son of the late Jean Jacques Voisard & N.N., died at his home in Montécheroux. We signed this record after I read it to them.”

According to a fellow researcher in France, Jean Germain Voisard was planning to move to America and had sold all of his property prior to his death.

Joseph Faivre was the husband of Jean Germain’s daughter, Marie Angelique. In the early 1830s they and their children emigrated to Ohio where Joseph owned and operated a dry goods store in the village of Belfort. They were my 4th great grandparents.

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