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Searching the Napoléon Military Muster Roll Registers

Posted by Sean Daly on Jan 21, 2022
Napoléon painting

Did your ancestor fight for Napoléon? Learn how to effectively search our million-plus dataset of Napoléon’s soldiers!

At Geneanet, we are excited about our volunteer project indexing the muster roll registers of Napoléon’s soldiers. Late last year, we reached the milestone of 1 million soldiers indexed – nearly 3 million individuals in all, since most register entries list the soldier’s parents as well. Let’s look at how to optimize your searches and find that gold nugget of genealogy information!

The starting point is a name. Visit our search entry page here. Type in a family name, with a first name if known.

The search engine entry page for Napoléon’s Soldiers

Scroll down in the results screen. If your ancestor had a common name, you may need to look at several records. If however you already have an idea what his middle name was, or his town of birth, you may find your forbear right away!

Napoléon’s Soldiers search results

Below is what a transcribed record looks like. At the top, you will see the military muster roll number; remember, this number is unique only to each military unit, not like today’s army-wide service numbers. The soldier’s full name and parents’ names are listed. The village, town, or city of birth is indicated, along with the modern-day département or county where the place is today. This will help orient you to the all-important archives départementales (AD) or county records which in France are not in a national repository. The birthdate is shown; note that the months are in French, as these documents were transcribed by French speakers. Now, click on the image link next to URL, which will open in a new tab.

Each soldier’s register entry has been transcribed; the URL link will take you to the scanned image

The actual images were scanned by France’s Ministère des Armées or Armed Forces Ministry and are hosted on its Mémoire des Hommes website. You can zoom in on an image to inspect it and download all or part of it to your computer if you wish.

Your soldier will likely be one of six on the page

The soldier’s last name was usually written carefully in large letters, to facilitate finding the register entry when it needed to be updated, for example if a man was transferred, deserted, or was injured or killed. If you can’t read French, no worries, you have the transcription to get started. The soldier’s origins are below his name. Search our Postcards database for the town or village, you may find great images there! Note that there will be additional, unindexed information in the record: a physical description with height, eye and hair color, facial features, and distinguishing characteristics. The next column has information about the soldier’s recruitment (volunteer or conscript), in particular the dates. Note the curious way the months were written – these abbreviations for month names were not unusual! You will most often see 7bre for September, 8bre for October, 9bre for November, and Xbre for December.

A soldier’s family name was written larger as a finding aid in the register books

Next comes the battalion or company number, then the soldier’s rank. Finally, the record will show which campaigns the soldier participated in, or the circumstances of a soldier’s mustering out. Napoléon’s troops fought in dozens of large battles and hundreds of skirmishes over the years of the Premier Empire, research the history your soldier’s unit and compare to the muster roll!

Some soldiers’ entries will have information about injuries or deaths

What if you don’t get any pertinent results? Keep in mind that spelling was not as standardized 200 years ago as it is today. Here’s where the Edit Search button comes in. Premium member? You will have all options available: the place – here is where knowing the département is useful – the year of birth or marriage, the parents’ names. Try using the asterisk or star wildcard, which will replace any number of letters. In this example, spelling DESHAYE* with a wildcard asterisk finds spelling variants and allows us to find not only our man, but a brother or cousin from the town who may also have served. Of course, you may also select the Name Variants box for any name field, or exclude a name from search. There is even an option to limit results to those soldiers for whom both parents were known. If you are not a Premium member, most of these options will be greyed out; however, you will be able to set a place and a year range covering any and all life events. Be on the lookout for surprises, you may find a soldier was registered in two separate muster rolls, if their unit was absorbed into another one.

The Edit Search button brings you to full search options. If you are a Premium member, all options will be available

Parlez-vous français ? Help us index the unindexed rolls! There are perhaps 400,000-800,000 soldiers left to transcribe. Visit our Geneawiki page (in French) for more information; don’t hesitate to ask questions in our forum. Volunteers made this project possible and your Premium membership supports their work!

The project page on Geneawiki (in French) has instructions for participating and details about which units are completed, underway, or not started yet

11 comments

Thank you for that info. I’ll try.


Anonymous user
1/24/22

Hi, have you searched the muster rolls dataset from the link above? Try with just the last name, this may have been a name common in Alsace but not elsewhere in France


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