On the 30th of March 1811, a Napoleon decree declared that all “found and poor orphaned” children of Paris were to be placed with rural families: mostly farmers and craftsmen. Such children were treated with contempt as mere commodities. Their host families were gifted a pension from the state and wage-free labour from the children. They had to pull their weight, they were unworthy children and they should have been grateful for what they were given. That is how the society of 19th-century France viewed them.
Many young people from rural France were working in services for rich Parisian families. For Napoleon, sending orphaned children of Paris there was an effective way to solve the growing issue of provincial France being depleted of its workforce.
On the 27th of July 1833, Louis Rivola, born on the 2nd of December 1832 in Paris 12th arrondissement, the son of Louise Augustine Juliette Rivola was given over to the care of the Paris foundling and orphan service. On the 30th of July 1833, he was sent to Bethune in Pas de Calais – a region in the north of France – where he gained his title as one of many “little Parisians.”
Louis learnt carpentry from his temporary family and grew to be a talented craftsman.
He met Hortense in his early thirties, and on the 20th of march 1864 their first child Sophie Marie Joseph was born. On the 4th of April 1864 they married in Merville in the North of France where he lived with his family for the rest of his life.
Louis’ biological mother surely was Italian, his family name taught him that much. He was a found child, son of a young unmarried woman who had no choice but to put him into care. So, when Hortense got pregnant, they got married as soon as possible. Louis was not the sort of man who shy away from his responsibilities. Together, Louis and Hortense had another 14 children.
Still, after much research by an amateur genealogist, his great granddaughter (me!), it came to light that Juliette was not a young woman who found herself pregnant out of wedlock. In fact, when Louis was born she was in her twenties, a settled and married woman.
What I uncovered after years of research in the digitalised archives of Paris left me heart broken.
She had married her sweet heart Jean-Baptiste Rivolin on the 11th of September 1827. When Louis arrived into this world they were married and settled for a while already. It is unclear if Juliette was 16 or 19 at the time of her wedding. All the official document had been reconstituted after the administration building of the 12th arroundissement of Paris was burnt during the revolt of the Paris commune in 1871.
Sadly, on the 2nd of January 1865, Juliette passed away at the age of 57 in her seamstress lodge where she lived and worked. Her colleagues declared her death to the authorities since she had no family left. It was known that she was widowed from her husband Jean-Baptiste Rivolin for quite a while, however his exact date of death could not be found as the official documents had been burnt away.
The heart breaking truth is that something drastic happened to Juliette and she had no choice but to leave her son into the care of others. A simple spelling mistake would seal hers and her son’s destiny, She said Rivolin, the administrator heard Rivola. This honest mistake meant that she was unable to change her mind. Louis and Juliette were unable to find each other ever again and the destiny of Louis was sealed away. All his life he though he was Italian and proud of it.
She died less than ten month after her son married, alone in her lodging. She did not know what had happened to him. He had been taken from her in a time of great despair and I do think that she really had no choice in this matter.
Believing is incredibly powerful, and its effects span centuries. It is is a formidable force, something that is being passed down through the generations.