top of page

My Great-Grandfather, Doctor to the Sultan of Turkey?

My grandfather, Aristide RIEFFEL, was a distinguished French journalist from the 1890s to 1915 when he brought his family (wife and son and daughter) to the USA to escape World War I.

Aristide RIEFFEL was sufficiently distinguished to have collections of his work accepted into the library archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and at the University of California/Santa Barbara.

My father, Marc-Aurele RIEFFEL, in the last two decades of his life (he died in 1994), undertook extensive research about Aristide RIEFFEL, including at the French National Library in Paris. From this research, he produced an unpublished biography of Aristide that runs to 164 pages, but it contains little information about Aristide’s father Alexis SORLIN-D'ORIGNY. Moreover, this biography does not include citations for his sources, so it could contain some misleading embellishments.

There is information on a French genealogical website that great-grandfather Alexis SORLIN-DORIGNY began living in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1850 at the age of 22. Intriguingly, according to my father’s research, Alexis was appointed in 1877 by the Government of France as doctor to Sultan Hamid II of Turkey. Moreover, my father obtained an official death certificate showing that Alexis died in Constantinople on 26 May 1884.

During a visit to Istanbul in 2012, I engaged a young Turkish academic to find information about the life and work of Alexis during his years in Istanbul. This research, however, produced more questions than answers, because it described a person who did not fit the profile of Alexis produced by my father.

This mystery was solved a few days ago when the daughter of my French cousin in France sent me some genealogical information showing that Alexis had a son—sometimes known as Alexis but more properly Albert—who does fit the profile found by the Turkish academic.

I am now set to fly to Istanbul on 8 January 2023. During the week I am there, I will re-engage with this Turkish academic in an effort to confirm my great-grandfather Alexis’ relationship to the court of Sultan Hamid II and to obtain other details about his life in Istanbul.

One reason for making this effort is that great-grandfather Alexis was never married to my great-grandmother Marie Adelaide RIEFFEL. He met her on one of his many stays in Paris and their child, my grandfather Aristide RIEFFEL, was a “love child”. This explains why my family name RIEFFEL comes from my great-grandmother and not my great-grandfather.

My plan is to write a short report on what I discover during this upcoming trip and how it relates to momentous events occurring in Turkey (and France) during the life of my great-grandfather. And other interesting stories may emerge from this visit.


bottom of page