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New collection: the Saint Helena Medals

Posted by Sean Daly on Apr 22, 2024
A Saint Helena medal with images of Napoléon veterans

During the years of Napoléon I’s reign, well over a million men from France and conquered territories in Europe were recruited for the Grande Armée. In 1857, veterans were awarded the Saint Helena Medal by the emperor’s nephew Napoléon III. Explore our new collection of over 200,000 men — a few with photographs!

At Geneanet, we have a number of genealogical resources from the Napoleonic period (1799-1815) — over 1.1 million indexed soldiers, monuments, postcards, and of course the Emperor’s genealogy at Geneastar — and we are excited to present our newest collection: an index of over 200,000 recipients of the Saint Helena Medal!

The “Grognards”

In 1857, Napoléon III, nephew of Napoléon I, decided to honor military veterans in the era between the Révolution (1792) and Waterloo (1815) which marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars. All men of arms — French, but also Belgian, Italian, even German — who could prove military service between 1792 and 1815 were eligible for the Saint Helena medal, named for the tiny remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean where the deposed emperor was exiled and died in 1821.

Some 405,000 former soldiers were proud recipients of the medal. Our new collection is an index to over half of them; many entries are linked to archival documents and some have photographs or illustrations. French volunteers are working on indexing missing soldiers from Archives Départementales (county archives) throughout France. Be sure to read our FAQ for more information.

Fifty years or more after their first military service, the Saint Helena Medal recipients were old men by 1857. Source BNF-Gallica

These soldiers often referred to themselves as the “Grognards” — the Complainers — as Napoléon had called them when they protested about late pay, mud, and the freezing temperatures of the disastrous Russian campaign!

Most records have the birthplace and date of the soldier, an important clue for reaching further back to parish records — try a search today!



My 4x great grandfather Jean Francois Costil was in Napoleon’s Army in the 155e in 1814 – please could someone see if he received the medal – I would be incredibly grateful!!Birth13 Sep. 1788
Banville, 14038, Calvados, Normandie, France

Marriage24 Nov. 1822
with Marie Rose COSTY/COSTIL

Banville, 14038, Calvados, Normandie, France

Death20 Nov. 1869
Banville, 14038, Calvados, Normandie, France

Answer from Geneanet: Search the database at this link for COSTIL and COSTY. At first glance there are several from Calvados — perhaps a brother or cousin? Note that only half of the recipients of the medal are indexed; there may be an unindexed dossier in the Archives Départementales de Calvados!

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