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Orphan Biographies, Early Modern France [Biographies]


Like much of early modern Europe, France saw increasing numbers of abandoned children, and new institutions designed to care for them. Orphanage records are one of a few rare types of sources available for historians to chart the histories of the abandoned children. Other documents include rules and regulations for the abandoned children placed in the orphanage, or various financial records produced by the directors of the orphanage. But few records provide as close a glimpse into the actual lives of the orphans as the institutions' entrance records.

These 20 entries come from two 18th-century orphanage registers from Dijon, France. While each individual entry provides only a tiny glimpse of the child's life, social historians can analyze a grouping of entries to identify patterns of child abandonment over time. In these samples, pay attention to the age of the children, the social status of the parents, the time spent in the orphanage, and the various ways in which the children left the orphanage.


Archives départementales de la Côte d'Or, Dijon, France [ADCO], 118H 1250/7, Registre des enfants de St Esprit et Bonnets Rouges." Archives de l'Hôpital de Dijon, Dijon, France. [AHD] F2/1, "Registre des admissions à Ste. Anne, 1713-1820."

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Simon Marniet, son of François Marniet butcher in Dijon in Notre Dame parish, aged 12 years. Arrived from the nursery on 30 April 1705. Retreived by his sister in the month of June 1712. [ADCO]

Claude Mathieu, son of Pierre Mathieu, [currently] in the King's service [his father is serving in the military], and Christine Gayot, his father and mother. [He] has been received in the Poor Chamber on Sunday, 30 May 1706. [He] entered the hospital on 8 June in the same year, aged 11 years. The said Claude Mathieu left on 16 December 1706 in order to be a choir boy in Saint-Chapelle [a local church in Dijon]. [ADCO]

Bernard Le Brun, native of St. Reine, aged nine years. Arrived from the nursery on 29 December 1706, aged 8 years. Deceased 30 March 1714. [ADCO]

Denis Champesme, native of Dijon, aged 9 years old, son of the deceased Anthoine Champesme, a former mason in Dijon, parish Saint Nicolas. [He] has been received upon order of Monsieur le President Delamaire on 1 January 1707. Retrieved by his relatives on 15 August 1707. [ADCO]

Jean Gautherin, native of Nevers, eighteen years old, son of Pierre Gautherin, a potter. [He] has been received for three months by the direction of Mr. the President Delamare [He holds a high judicial office in the appellate court] on 25 January 1707. Received for three months. Left 24 June 1707. [ADCO]

Antoine Cavoisier, aged 12 years, son of the deceased Jean Cavoisier, and of Jeanne Mignard. Received by request on Sunday, 2 September 1718. [He] has his old, worn clothes and has been certified that he has no contagious disease by the hospital's surgeon. [ADCO]

Claude Jamet, aged about 16 or 17 years, son of the deceased Philibert Jamet, cooper, and of Bernarde Matinot. Received in order to work at the factory on Sunday, 12 March 1719. Left in the month of August 1721 in order to learn how to make tools in Plombieres [a local village]. [ADCO]

2 January 1752. Jean Mairet, aged about 12 years, son of the deceased Claude Mairet, former vintner in Djion, and of Nicolle Jourde, widow of the said Mairet, currently lives on the. . . street [in the] St. Nicolas Parish. [He] has been received among the children of the Bonnet Rouges [the male children wore "red hats" as a sign that they belonged to the hospital] in the hospital for one year, following the request. . . [of] 2 January 1752. And in the Chamber on 4 March 1753, [he will] continue for two years. And by deliberation of 2 March 1755 [his stay] has been continued until 4 June. Sent to work in order to be a weaver in June 1755. [ADCO]

17 December 1752. Jacques LeGros, aged 12 years, son of Toussaint LeGros, weaver, and of the deceased Françoise Monin his wife, domiciled on the street of the Ursulines, St. Michel Parish. [He] has been received by deliberation on the said day. . . until 1 June of next year. The said request states that the father has had two children from a second marriage, and he has been absent for three months because he was pursued by creditors, and he abandoned his two children from his first marriage. Note [that the Chamber] wants to return him quickly to his father if it is possible to locate him. [ADCO]

2 March 1754. Thomas, aged about 10 or 11 years. Found abandoned in the Church of the Capuchins of Dijon. He has returned from his fosterage and sent to the children of the Bonnet Rouges on 2 March 1754. . . . 3 April 1755. Fostered to Jeanne Lepot, wife of Pierre Jacob, laborer at Gevry, until 1 April 1758 at 3 pounds per month. [ADCO]

21 July 1748. Françoise Coron, aged 9 years, daughter of. . . Coron, blind, and Claudine Reux, his wife. [She] has been received among the girls of Saint Anne by deliberation. Left for work in 1751. [AHD]

10 September 1753. Margueritte, surnamed Marsannay [a local village], aged about thirteen years, following her first registration in the third book, page 107, where it appears that she was exposed or abandoned at the door of the Capuchin convent of Dijon on 30 October 1740, having on her a sign that said she was called Claudine. 30 April 1755. Given in pension by the order of Mr. the President de Bourbonne to Barbe Villat, wife of Nicolas Cuchon, laborer in Persilly, parish de Boux, until 1 May 1758. [AHD]

Jeanne LaFouge, aged thirteen years, four months, illegitimate child of Françoise LaFouge, baptised in St. Martin's Church in Chagny on 21 June 1740. Received definitively. . . 3 April 1755. Sent in pension with Anne LaMarche, wife of Etienne Chrestien, saddler in Sombernon, for three pounds per month until 1 April 1758. . . . 30 April 1758. Sent to Claude Laborde, laborer at Fonlette. Died 19 Pluviôse, Year 7 [7 February 1799] at five in the morning. [AHD]

14 December 1755. Catherine Sellier, aged 7 years, daughter of Cosme Sellier, tailor in Dijon, and of Denise Pelletret, deceased for 4 years. [She] has been received for one year upon request presented on the part of Sir Gaudelet, also tailor in Dijon. . . . 14 March 1757. Given in fosterage [pension] to Magdelaine Pelletret, femme de Michel Gaudelet, tailor in Dijon, [living on the] street near the palace, until 12 March 1760 at 3 pounds per month. [AHD]

13 May 1759. Marie Maire, aged about 8 and a half years old, daughter of Augustin Maire, militiaman in the battalion of Dijon, and of Margueritte Jacquenet, deceased in Paris about a year ago. [Marie] has her grandmother, [not named], widow of Mathieu Jacquenet, [who has been] with the Elderly [a room in the hospital for older citizens who could not care for themselves] for 16 months. Marie Maire has been received among the deprived children until the return of her father. And according to another deliberation of 20 May 1759, Marie Maire will remain under the guidance of her aforesaid grandmother. . ., the widow of Mathieu Jacquenet, [who is] among the elderly of this hospital. [AHD]

21 November 1759. Henriette, born 30 October 1747. Baptised in St. Esprit, registered on. . . page 378. Sent to. . . Saint Anne until [we] can find a place in the countryside. 9 December 1759. Sent in fosterage to the home of Michel Bord, a mason… and by order of the Bureau on the said day, at two pounds per month until 30 October 1761. Died 1 May 1775. [AHD]

6 May 1764. Marie, called "bissey," born 23 March 1751. Returned from Viel Moulin where she was in fosterage at the home of Jean Lamy, who no longer wanted charge of her much longer because of her poor education. Received this day with the girls of St. Anne, by order of the Bureau, in order to be instructed and raised. 9 March 1768. Sent to the trade of seamstress with Catherine Cauvard, a single woman living in Chateauneuf. [AHD]

18 March 1770. Claudine Royer, born 30 January 1760, illegitimate daughter of Didiere Royer, who is currently wife of Etienne Roüette, laborer in Fleury. Upon the deliberation of the bureau, [she] has been received among the girls of Saint Anne until further notice. . . . Baptised at St. Apollinaire. Given to the care of Pierrette Dumay, widow of Pierre Piot, laborer in the suburb of St. Pierre, for 7 pounds per month because of her scrofula. 10 May 1772. Changed caregiver and sent to Anna Lamarche, widow of Claude Nodot, laborer at. . ., until further notice, at 5 pounds per month. 15 November 1774. Has today returned from. . . and placed in the vagrant hall until further notice. 6 June 1777. Sent to her mother who asked for her without any renumeration. [AHD]

17 January 1773. Catherine, called the gentle one, presented by Ms. LeBlond, midwife, [and] born 27 June 1758. [She] was nursed at Viel Moulin, [and] has been brought from the vagrants room to the girls of Saint Anne until she can make her first communion. After such time, she will be sent to the countryside, following the deliberation of the Bureau. 20 February 1774. Given to Antoinette Bigold, wife of Bernard Bourdieu, vintner at Larrey, and charged with giving her future wages appropriate to her work. 20 March 1774. Placed anew with Claude. . ., gardener. . . ., under the same conditions as above. [AHD]

23 February 1777. Anne Gaucher, aged about 11 years, daughter of Claude Gaucher, absent, and of the deceased Reine Loizier. Received by the Bureau on 1 December 1765 until the return of her father, and was sent to a wet-nurse in the countryside, but as this little girl had a weak disposition. . . she was received among the girls of Saint Anne for an unlimited period of time. 23 February 1778. Sent to Françoise Villeby, widow of Lazare Loisier, tavern-keeper of Dijon. . . until a new order, at 4 pounds per month because she is full of scrofula. [AHD]

How to Cite This Source

"Orphan Biographies, Early Modern France [Biographies]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #123, (accessed August 10, 2021). Annotated by Christopher Corley