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Yes. My Great-Grandfather Was Sultan Hamid II’s Doctor

The high point of the visit was being taken to a small street in the Pera neighborhood of Istanbul (in the new part across the Golden Horn from Old Istanbul) where my great-grandfather, Louis Alexis Dieudonne SORLIN, had his office for at least some of the years when he was employed as a doctor (“medicin-dentiste”) in the court of Sultan Hamid II. (My great-grandfather was born in 1828 in a part of north eastern France known as Origny.)

Confirmation of his status in the court from documents in the Ottoman archives came to me in the week after I returned to Washington DC. The younger of the two professors I met with found a reference to Alexis SORLIN DORIGNY (as he was known then) receiving a salary from the court in 1855. He also found a reference to a salary be given to “Doctor d’Origny” in 1883 that presumably refers to the son of Alexis (known both as “Alexis” and “Albert”), who was also a “medecin-dentiste” with a practice in Constantinople. (The city’s name was formally changed to Istanbul in 1930.)

There was insufficient time during my visit to consult with the French consulate-general in Istanbul or its affiliated Institut Francais to confirm the family story that Alexis SORLIN DORIGNY was appointed to the court of Sultan Hamid II by the French government. Nor to get more information about the death of Alexis SORLIN DORIGNY in 1884 and the decision to send his body to France for an autopsy after he died. Happily, the young professor did find an announcement in a Turkish newspaper several months after the death of Alexis to the effect that his son, Albert, would continue to receive patients in the office maintained by Alexis on Asmali-Mesjid Street in the Pera neighborhood.

The research effort I am supporting will now dig deeper into the Ottoman archives—and newspapers/magazines--to find more information about the life and practice of Alexis in Constantinople. I will try to engage the French Consulate-General in searching for information in their records, but I may have more success by searching in Paris. I am making plans to go there in April or May.

One high research priority when I am in France will be to find the rest of a 4-page newsletter published in 1867 whose cover art is a grotesque cartoon said to be of my great-grandfather Alexis. An image of the cover is attached.

I will also be looking for more information about the life of Alexis in Paris, which is where he met my great-grandmother, Marie Adelaide RIEFFEL. She was born in Rosheim, Alsace, and moved to Paris to work with her sister, initially making hat boxes and later selling pastels to young artists (according to family history). Alexis was married when he me Marie and my grandfather Aristide RIEFFEL took his mother’s family name because he was a “love child”. This was no casual encounter, however. Aristide, born in 1859, grew up knowing his father well from his father’s frequent stays in Paris. Aristide even visited Alexis in Constantinople in 1882 at the age of 23.


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