The registration card of Yves Marie Le Gall, one of the earliest of many residents of Ploeuc-sur-Lie in north Brittany to make Jersey their home
During the 19th century, as Jersey's became more prosperous and less isolated from the rest of the world than it had been, there was a steady influx of workers to provide for the growing population. Many of these were tradesmen from England, but to service the growing farming industry, which was focused on exporting crops, particularly potatoes, it was necessary to recruit labourers from nearby Brittany and Normandy.
The economies of these areas of north-west France were so depressed that those living in small towns could earn more by travelling to work in Jersey for a few month than they could be remaining at home and working there for a whole year.
The French labourers arrived at the start of the season and left with the money they had saved at the end. If they had formed a relationship with a member of a Jersey family, perhaps they stayed, settled down, married and raised a family. Others came to Jersey as couples, found that they preferred the island life, and also took up permanent residency.
There were few, if any formalities involved, because Jersey already had a history of welcoming refugees from French religion and politics in earlier times. The newcomers spoke the same language as country folk in Jersey (more or less) and fitted in well with their new communities.
But those who had foresaken their homeland for a better life in an island a few kilometres across the sea remained French, the Jersey women the men had married took their husbands' nationality and became French, and their children, although born in Jersey to mothers whose families may have lived there for generations, took their father's nationality and were also considered French.
When the Great War started they went back home', some of them to a country they may never have visited, and joined the French Army. Jersey still had a need for agricultural workers to keep the farms productive, but, probably for the first time, with Britain at war with much of Europe, questions were raised about the background and intentions of 'aliens' already in Jersey or seeking to enter the island.
A new States department was formed within weeks of the outbreak of war, and although it was principally concerned with those citizens of countries with which Britain was at war, the Aliens Restriction Act enacted in the UK became applicable in Jersey and imposed firm conditions on all foreign nationals living in or visiting the Island. Its harshest provisions were aimed at the citizens of those countries with which Britain was at war. As well as having to endure isolation from their homeland, Germans and Austro-Hungarian nationals had to comply with strict rules governing their movement and behaviour, under threat of internment or repatriation.
After the war the relaxed attitude of pre-war decades could no longer continue and on 17 February 1920 the States of Jersey enacted the principles of the 1914 English Aliens Restrictions Act. Under the law all aliens over the age of 16 resident in Jersey has to register with the Immigration Officer. Every alien in the Island had to register, no matter how old they were or how long they had been living in Jersey.
And this applied to wives and children of foreign nationals, even though they were born in Jersey. All were required to register, provide a photograph to be attached to the documentation and to notify the Immigration Department of any material change of circumstances and address.
These records are now held by Jersey Archive and those relating to people born in or before 1917 have been made public. Access to images of the registration cards is restricted to subscribers to the Archive's online service, but basic details are accessible without a subscription.
Jerripedia has created an alphabetical index to the Aliens Registration Cards. Each letter is divided into two sections: Registrations by those born before 1900 and registrations by those born from 1901 to 1917.
The information on the cards is invaluable to family historians. The card illustrated below, relating to Yves Marie Le Gall, one of the first of many to arrive in Jersey from Ploeuc-sur-Lie in the Cotes d'Armor Department of Brittany, then known as Cotes du Nord, shows the information which these registrations contained. The details included the applicant's full names, date and place of birth, occupation, date of arrival in Jersey, registered addresses, and, strangely in this case, the presumption in 1953, when he would have been aged 105, that he had died. The quality of photographs varies enormously, but this is a particularly fine example of a proud Frenchman, 36 years resident in Jersey, and wearing his best suit for his registration card photograph.