Who Were the Huguenots?

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

I have had little experience with genealogical research in continental European countries as my family research is almost entirely British Isles-based. Yes, my father’s parents did come from Portugal, but that country is on the fringes of the European mainland (and at this stage in my family research, I have done little work on my Portuguese lines beyond twentieth-century passenger arrival records.) Thus, I have always wondered just who groups such as the Palatines and Huguenots were, and how people came to have such individuals in their ancestral lines. I decided to look into the Huguenots recently, as I have returned to work on some of my own European lines after a long stretch of neglect.

One cold January evening some years ago, while in Salt Lake City for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I happened upon a compiled genealogy containing information on the Lanfare family (alternatively spelled Lanfair, Lanphiere, Lamphiere, Lanfear, etc., although I will use only one spelling here for simplicity). Now, if my files were even remotely in order, I would have the name of the book at my fingertips and would not be writing this information from memory. Anyway, I remember that the compiler wrote about a Lanfare family with regard to France’s St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (thus suggesting a Huguenot connection) and that the line seemed to relate to my Lanfares, first from Long Island, and later from Stonington and Branford, Connecticut. I distinctly remember that he did not provide descendants for a particular Oliver Lanfare (a prevalent given name in my Lanfare line), but did indicate that the copy of the book he had donated to the Library of Congress included such amplification of the text.

As I resume my research into early Lanfares, I first need to understand who the Huguenots were and relocate this compiled genealogy during my January 2012 trip to Salt Lake City. If my memory is correct, then I will need to locate the Library of Congress’ copy during a subsequent trip to Washington D. C. (Both searches will probably be done more efficiently than trying to find my original notes here at home.)

Simply stated, the Huguenots were French Protestants. Various stories have been written to explain the meaning of the name “Huguenot.” One of the most prevalent is that it was a term applied to Protestants in Tours, in France, who assembled at night near the gate of King Hugo. (They assembled near the gate as they were barred from meeting within the town or city itself.) While espousing many of the tenets of the Lutheran faith begun in Germany by Martin Luther, these French Protestants were heavily influenced by the teachings of John Calvin. They believed in “salvation through individual faith without the need for the intercession of a church hierarchy” and believed in “an individual’s right to interpret scriptures for themselves.” These Protestants made themselves particularly unpopular with the Catholic Church and the French monarchy as early as 1536. In addition to the religious heresy of which they were increasingly accused, they also represented a large percentage of the artisan class in France, thus posing a threat to the economy if they were to leave the country to seek religious freedom elsewhere. Frequent periods of severe anti-Protestant persecution associated with a series of royal edicts that threatened the Huguenots’ existence and their ability to worship as they wished. These periods were also marked throughout by simultaneous outbreaks of religious warfare.

In this context, four seminal events defined Huguenot history:

  • The Massacre of St. Bartholomew on 24 August 1572 occurred after Catherine de Medici (originally disinterested enough in religion to ignore the Huguenots), became jealous over the increasing influence over the king by Admiral Coligny, a prominent Protestant. She convinced the monarch to murder Huguenot leaders who were then meeting in Paris. It is estimated that 2,000 individuals were killed in Paris, with almost 8,000 killed elsewhere in France.
  • The Edict of Nantes, in April 1598, brought years of religious warfare to a close and allowed Huguenots some degree of religious freedom, specifying twenty towns in which they could enjoy free religious expression.
  • The Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV in October 1685, and persecution began once more with even more repressive measures instituted against the Huguenots. Protestants were not allowed to worship in public; churches were demolished; and meeting in private homes in order to worship was also prohibited. Even more drastic were measures stating that both men and women were barred from emigration, with perpetrators sentenced to the galleys for men or imprisonment for women. Nevertheless, large numbers of individuals, perhaps as many as 100,000, fled France. Many went to Germany, the Netherlands, and England. Others traveled to the British colonies, specifically the Carolinas, Virginia, and New York.
  • The Edict of Toleration, dated 1787, granted non-Catholics many rights previously denied them, including permission to be married before magistrates, to have births recorded officially, and to practice their professions without interference. More importantly, the edict created an environment in which churches could be organized openly. Following the Reign of Terror and the French Revolution, Napoleon would include the restoration of rights for the Huguenots in his plans for pacification of France.

If you believe that you may have a Huguenot family in your ancestral lines, there are many opportunities to learn more about this group.

  • The Huguenot Library. This library is part of the special collections library at the University College London (England) and features a collection of approximately 6,000 books, periodicals and manuscripts. Included in the collection are the records of several London Huguenot churches, as well as records describing relief funds distributed to Huguenot refugees and their descendants. One collection, the Wagner Pedigrees, details 1,000 Huguenot families. This library is temporarily housed at The National Archive in Kew; those wishing to access materials must make an appointment at least two weeks prior to the date on which research is to be conducted. The library’s collection can be accessed at eUCLid. One of the 5,823 items identified in a keyword search for Huguenot includes “An account of the deportment and last words of Mr. Richard Langhorne, who was drawn, hang’d and quarter’d at Tyburn for high-treason, on Munday, July 14. 1679.”
  • The Huguenot Society of America. Founded in 1883, the society is organized to “perpetuate the memory of the Huguenot settlers in America, to commemorate the principal events in the history of the Huguenots, and to promote the cause of religious freedom.” Located in New York City, the society maintains an extensive library of books, monographs, manuscripts and other materials. The library is open by appointment and its catalog is not available online. Their website provides a list of ancestors accepted as a basis for membership (which does not include any form of the Lanfare name).
  • Historic Huguenot Street. New Paltz, New York, is the location of Historic Huguenot Street, a National Historic Landmark District with stone houses dating to the 1700s, a burial ground, and a reconstructed 1717 stone church. This site, the oldest continuously inhabited street in America with its original houses, depicts the life experienced by Huguenot refugees who came to the colonies in 1678 and purchased 40,000 acres on which to settle.
  • The Huguenot Society of South Carolina. This lineage society, located in Charleston, South Carolina, is open to those who can document “that they are descendants in the male or female line of a Huguenot who emigrated to America prior to the promulgation of the Edict of Toleration on November 28, 1787.” No connection with South Carolina is necessary for membership. One of its principal objectives is to “maintain genealogical records of the emigrants to this country and their descendants.” The society’s library is located at 138 Logan Street and is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:00-2:00. The society charges a fee of $10.00 for non-members. On-street parking is available as are nearby metered lots. The library includes over 4,500 books, journals, newsletters and files, as well as materials on South Carolina history and families.
  • The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia is a lineage society for those individuals who are the descendants of French Protestants who came to Virginia before 1786. Huguenots arrived in Virginia as early as 1620, and five ships arrived at the mouth of the James River about 1700, having been granted lands in recognition of their military service to King William of England. They established a colony on the site of a village that had been deserted by the Monacan Indians. The society maintains a library next to the Manakin Episcopal Church. The library houses, among other resources, a full index to The Huguenot magazine, which may be searched online (still no mention of the surname of Lanfare).
  • Ancestry.com. I identified eighteen databases through a card catalog search for “Huguenot.” One of these, the National Huguenot Society Bible Records database, was created from Arthur Louis Finnell’s National Huguenot Society Bible Records, originally published in 2004 by Genealogical Publishing Company. This database includes “proof files” of qualified members of the Society as well as files of applicants whose membership was awaiting further documentation at the time of compilation. Entries include “births, marriages, and deaths and in most cases indicate the name(s) of the principals, the date of the event, and sometimes, such supplementary information as his/her age or address, the maiden name of a parent, etc.” Included are records for more than 2,500 main families and 25,000 individuals of Huguenot or possible Huguenot ancestry (still no Lanfares).
  • Cyndi’s List provides many links related to the Huguenots. In reviewing some of the links provided, I found it interesting that while the Huguenot Society of America does not list any variation of Lanfare in its list of accepted surnames, the Australian Family Tree Connections Huguenot Surnames Index includes a listing for “Lamphier (1775+ NY USA).”

In retrospect, I don’t know when – or if – I will be able to prove a Huguenot connection for my Lanfare family, but I am encouraged by the wide variety of available resources and will pursue this topic as part of my research into this family line.


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