In 1870-71, the Prussians laid siege to Paris. During the siege, they took the Left Bank and the heights. Unprepared, the people of Paris began to starve. The city was bombed just before Christmas and surrendered in January of 1871. The starvation had been horrific and other countries, notably Britain, sent food.
The French national guards were so angry at the French government that they took some cannons up to Montmartre and began their own siege of Paris. Thus began the siege of the Paris Commune, something of an own goal as sieges go, with enormous support of the people who had suffered so. Pitched battles were waged in the streets, generals were murdered, but the Army held and began to take back the city. The Communards killed the archbishop of Paris, the President, priests, magistrates, and many others who were their hostages. Then they turned on the city of Paris and did far more damage than the Prussians had done.
Using petrol, they torched the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) the seat of city government and the repository of records since the 16th century. They also burned the Palais de Justice (which is the palace so beautifully painted in the Duc de Berry's Très Riches Heures) the Ministry of Finance, the Council of State and a large section of the Rue de Rivoli. Clearly the plan was to wipe out history, for barrels of gunpowder had also been piled inside the Cathédrale de Nôtre Dame and inside the Panthéon. Imagine if those had gone too!
The ruins of the Hôtel de Ville after the fire.
The Hôtel de Ville was rebuilt and you can have a long, room by room, narrated (with English subtitles) online tour of it here: (http://webvideo3.paris.fr/visite_virtuelle/html/index.htm?lng=en&deb=h&axe=pat)
In the post about the Archives de Paris, I wrote about how the information in the lost records was gathered from other sources as much as was possible and the records "reconstituted". The information is pretty good for the 19th century, so-so for the 18th century, and gets quite sparse before that, leaving those searching their Parisian ancestors at a dead end. There is one other possibility for a bit more genealogical information on Parisians.
In a previous revolution (of which the French have had many), that of 1830, the penchant for archive destruction had already been in evidence. Alexandre Dumas wrote in his memoirs that "I saw thousands of letters and papers fluttering into the Tuileries' garden. It was the correspondence of Napoleon, Louis XVIII and Charles X that they were scattering to the winds." That same year, a young clerk, Amédée Coutot, who worked for a notary* -- and who may have seen a few papers fluttering about -- was inspired. He began making copies of vital records (actes de naissance, de marriage, de dècés) from all over France, and using them to make genealogies in line with his work to find heirs for the notary. These were not burned during the Paris Commune, and the enterprise continues to this day as the Archives Généologiques Andriveau, with over 200 million records stored in some 15,000 volumes in Rue du Cherche Midi. Of particular interest to those searching Parisian ancestors are the marriage tables from 1700 to 1802. One might also be lucky enough to be related to one of the families for whom a genealogy has been compiled. Unfortunately, the service is not free. The website, entitled GeneaService, has pages in English and a form to fill for requests for quotes:
The collection is available on www.ancestry.fr as the "Collections Paris et Ancienne Seine, Fonds Coutot, 1700-1907", again, for a fee:
If you do not find your ancestors in the Archives de Paris or the Archives Généologiques Andriveau, and if they were ordinary Parisian folk, I am afraid you will not find them.
*A notaire in France is something of a lawyer. All contracts for property purchase are handled by a notaire, as is the writing and probate of wills, and the writing of marriage contracts. Thus, for inheritance and wills administration, a notaire has a need for genealogical information.
©2009 Anne Morddel