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Napoléon's Soldiers

From 1802 to 1815, Napoléon I, crowned Emperor, was at war with the other European powers. The recruitment of men required for his army - volunteers and conscripts - was enormous, likely the largest in France except for the First World War.

Over 1 million soldiers have been indexed from their military roll register records, and indexing of the rest is ongoing. Each record contains the family name, first name, date and place of birth, parents' names, enrollment and discharge dates, and campaign record for every soldier, as well as a link to the high-resolution scanned image hosted by France's Ministère des Armées. Most records are for French soldiers, but there are also men from Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and elsewhere.


At Geneanet, we accompany our community of genealogists by organizing and supporting indexing projects which, like all data provided by members, are free for all. We are excited about a major milestone: our dataset of Napoléon’s soldiers has just passed the 1 million mark!

Every record of a soldier lists complete information: military muster roll number, last name, first names, parents’ names, date and place of birth including the French département, the military unit dates, and a link to the original image scanned and hosted by France’s Ministère des Armées. Each record also has the username of the volunteer transcriber and the index ID rank number in the Geneanet database. This precious information – names, parents’ names, birthplace, and dates – is a goldmine for genealogists. And with the original scan 1 click away, further information is available in the register image, such as the enrollment and discharge dates and the list of campaigns which can be matched with historical sources covering the unit in question.

From 1802 to 1815, Napoléon recuited approximately 2 million soldiers for his Grand Armée which crisscrossed Europe and participated in a number of legendary battles: Austerlitz (1805), Jena-Auerstedt (1806), Friedland (1807), Somosierra (1808), Wagram (1809), Borodino (1812), and of course Waterloo (1815), to name only a few. These fighting men, volunteers and conscripts, were mostly French. But as many as 200,000 of them came from other European countries: Belgium, Italy, today’s Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and elsewhere. Following the Revolution, the “registre matricule” or military muster roll register was kept by every army unit with a copy for the Minister of War. Every soldier was assigned a number (unique only to that military unit, so different from today’s unique service numbers) and the register is a treasure trove of information: birth date and place, parents’ names, physical description, date enrolled, list of campaigns, injuries, decorations, and date and cause of departure – and injury or death. The registers were used for years afterward for pensions or as proof of military service.

Each record is rich in information

If you have French ancestry, it is quite possible you will find an ancestor in this dataset. François Ollivier was one of Napoléon’s young recruits who battled to save France in 1814. What, he was a deserter? This register tells the story: every recruit not in hospital deserted that spring. Why? Well, by the first week of April, Prussian and Russian troops were in Paris, and Napoléon had abdicated and fled to Elba Island. François remained in service until May 29th, and no doubt wished to return home as the war was over…

The military roll register shows that this soldier was conscripted in 1812 and participated in the 1814 campaign. Like the other soldiers of his unit, following the defeat and exile of Napoléon, François Ollivier left and no doubt went home. Be sure to check the first page of any series where you find an ancestor; there may be information about the unit’s history!

France’s Ministère des Armées scanned these images from 1,191 registers – representing about 38% of all of Napoléon’s soldiers – and published them online in late 2013. [The inventory, in French, of the original documents can be found here.] However, finding a soldier’s record within the images was nearly impossible if you didn’t already know the unit and timeframe. A Geneanet member passionate about history, Claude Valleron, began indexing the registers in 2014 and was soon joined by other volunteers; since 2016, the project coordinator is member Alain Brugeat who works tirelessly to check and correct data. For example, the image above shows a birthplace difficult to decipher. French indexers are able to correctly identify many such place names. The Ministère des Armées published a second series of registers in 2019; eventually, all surviving registers will be online – and Geneanet members will continue to index them. Parlez-vous Français ? Help us grow this dataset here!

Anecdote of the battle of Jena-Auerstedt, shown in Horace Vernet’s painting (detail) hanging in Versailles: Napoléon was galloping in review past his reserves standing at attention during the battle, while noting his flanks were threatened by cavalry. The impatient troops cried “Long Live the Emperor!’ but also: “En avant !” – “Forward!”. “Why, that could only be a beardless young man, who could be so sure of what I must do; he should wait until he has commanded thirty battalions in a pitched battle before presuming he can advise me.”

There are many other indexing projects at Geneanet honoring soldiers in France and elsewhere in Europe. In particular, there are hundreds of thousands of photos of gravestones of Allied soldiers who fell in France during the First World War and were buried there. Over 600 Allied military cemeteries have been completely photographed and indexed, and a thousand other cemeteries with military plots have been indexed too.

Geneanet volunteers regularly contribute photos of archival documents, monuments and cemeteries, as well as historical postcard images. Volunteers also index the names and places in uploaded documents, which makes pertinent search results possible. The Geneanet website provides members with an easy-to-use interface for uploading and indexing documents. If you are passionate about genealogy and have time to spare, please consider contributing unpublished archives or helping index archives uploaded by others. Visit our forums if you have any questions, the community is there for you!