We like to think that the genealogy craze that has swept the Americas and Europe is aiding in the democratization of French people. No longer is the subject seen as the snobs' domain, where those who really were without tried to prove aristocratic ties. Nor is it solely the territory of the heir researcher who guarded his or her sources against the competition with some extremely rude ferocity. Increasingly, ordinary folk are pleased to find their family's place in France's illustrious history, once they can find out who their family may have been.
The French mind when addressing history and thus, by inclusion genealogy, is one that is content with facts and rarely shows interest into their meaning: if something is, it is, what difference does it make why it is? Nevertheless, that keen French mind cares deeply that the facts be correct, true, verifiable. Hence the glorious excess of detail in French civil registrations, the French genealogist's first stopping point.
As the genealogy passion increases in France, the websites of the Departmental Archives increase their online riches with what is the second stopping point: notarial records. The Departmental Archives of Vendée have just put online images of 310,000 notarial actes. The National Archives, as we have written here, have been putting up images of the lists, or répertoires, of the thousands of actes of Parisian notaires. The Departmental Archives of Yvelines have added images of their répertoires to their website. The website Familles Parisiennes, which we discuss in our booklet, have a number of simultaneous projects to put online images of Parisian notarial records. We predict that many more archives will follow suit and that you, Dear Readers, will be able to dig much, much deeper into your family history.
It is impossible to overemphasize the value of notarial records. The profession of the notaire is older than the country of France. For centuries, they have been documenting French lives.
"Their recognized functions were those of public officers of high probity authorized to receive directions from parties and prepare their acts and contracts, to give them validity, certain date, preserve them on deposit and deliver exemplifications and certified copies of them as required. The records of their offices, embracing their own activity and that of their predecessors, constituted the muniments of title to real property, evidences of marriage settlements and wills of many generations, in their several jurisdictions. They had become the trusted counsellors of their clients and often served as amiable arbitrators in their differences. They gathered they last wishes in testamentary form and afterwards regulated the rights of heirs. They aided in investments and advised how to repair the errors of business judgment. In fact, few affairs of life or death could be regulated without recourse to some member of the notariat."*
Practice reading French and prepare yourselves for this glorious deluge.
©2015 Anne Morddel
*Smithers, WW. "History of the French Notarial System" University of Pennsylvania Law Review; October 1911.