We recently made a dash to the coast not to take the sea air nor, most disappointingly, to witness the launch of the Hermione replica, but to burrow into archives, seeking forgotten details of others' pasts. The Departmental Archives of Loire-Atlantique are in Nantes, a place that is fine, as cities go, slightly hilly, rather empty, moderately pretty.
We appreciated that this Departmental Archives facility is in the centre of town, within strolling distance of hotels and museums, and not -- as with so many others -- a long ride through nasty neighbourhoods. The building is modern and clean, if unimaginative. The entry has a display of works about or based on the collections of the Archives.
The reading room is large and with excellent lighting, which is so necessary for good photographs of withered documents covered in pale, faded ink.
The windows to one side provide a view of a concrete cell. To the other side, a lovely shaded pool.
The staff of this Departmental Archives bluntly refuse to be of any help whatsoever by e-mail or post, offering fewer services by way of reproductions from a distance than just about any other archives facility in France, with the exception of the Departmental Archives of Finistère. Are Bretons Luddites, we wonder? Or perhaps they dread the idea of disseminating copies of their treasures, believing it to be possible still to guard them privately and control all access and rights to them. Not in the Internet Age, we fear; that ship sailed long ago.
Yet, pass through the doors of this Departmental Archives and the warmth and hospitality that exists nowhere in dour France but in her archives is abundantly evident. Rarely have staff so jumped to be of assistance or so cheerfully. The collection, the finding aids, the request system and their use were all most courteously explained and we were guided through first steps with patience and kindness. They showed an interest in our subject of research and suggested other documents and files to seek.
Especially impressive are the research guide cards, or fiches, which the staff have produced and offer at no charge. They are well illustrated and printed very nicely, covering the more common types of research:
- Researching the History of a Shop or Business
- Using the Parish and Civil Registrations
- The Land Registry as a Historical Source
- Finding a Document in the Registers
- Tracing a foreigner in Loire-Atlantique during the 19th and 20th centuries
- The History of a Ship
- The History of a Sailor
- How to Find a Post-Revolutionary Inheritance
Concise, colourful, clear, they explain simply the concepts of their archives, the structure, the classification and, step-by-step, with examples, how to use them and find information within them. They are on display in a rack in the reading room. Much work and intelligence have gone into the creation of these cards and they are excellent. Taken all together, they form a complete genealogist's guide to this Departmental Archives. Many of these guides are reproduced on the website of the Departmental Archives of Loire-Atlantique.
While the classification system used in France's Departmental Archives is standard to all (see Our Book), each has its local variations and idiosyncrasies. In Loire-Atlantique, the collection emphasizes the region's predominant feature: the sea. Thus, on the website and in the reading room, one has access to the ship captains' arrival reports (rapports de mer), ship lists, and lists of local outfitters (armateurs).
Should you be researching in the region, we can mostly highly recommend the Departmental Archives of Loire-Atlantique and do so. You must go in person, we remind you; forget contacting them by post, telephone or e-mail.
Archives départementales de Loire-Atlantique
6, rue de Bouillé
©2015 Anne Morddel