Le Centre d'acceuil et de recherche des Archives nationales - CARAN - is the seat of the Archives nationales in central Paris. And what luxurious reading rooms! Long, oaken tables with enough space for all of one's papers, laptop, and genealogical paraphernalia, terrific lighting, great air conditioning, intelligent, efficient and helpful staff - it is no wonder that so many people prefer to do research here. It is to the Archives de Paris as the Eurostar's First Class car is to the RER.
Naturally, the Archives nationales holdings have changed dramatically over the years and with the construction of new facilities. The CARAN now holds national material relating only to the Ancien régime, or prior to the Revolution, and of local materials, the notarial archives of Paris dating from the fifteenth century. we will list here only what will be of interest to genealogists:
- notarial records since the 15th century
- private archives of people of national historical importance
- certain military records, including
- the Order of Saint-Louis
- Marshals, Admirals, and Generals of France
- those in Invalides
- records of the pre-Revolutionary Navy
Many believe that all military records are held at Vincennes, but from this partial list it is clear that CARAN also holds quite a lot.
The Archives nationales do NOT have copies of the parish, civil, or provincial notarial records that are held in the departmental or commune archives. Nor do they hold in Paris the Ministry of Defense records or those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For those descended from French soldiers or sailers who settled in any part of New France, from Louisiana to Quebec, the military records at CARAN can yield some wonderful information.
How to Use CARAN
As with everything in the French government, there is one way to do things, one way only, and no back talk if you please. Follow the rules, keep your head down and admit you are part of the masses, and it is a beautiful service. Ask for anything extra, outside the rules, try to sound important, and hackles will be raised, staff will suddenly become deaf to your voice alone, requested records will not arrive. Ever. Do, please, play by the rules.
To even enter the place, let alone use anything there, one must register and pay a fee. To maximize the time there, it is best to pre-order the materials. So, the first thing to do is to go to the website. Under the Paris heading, click on the section «préparer votre visite». We took an hour to read through it all the first time, but it was worth it.
Firstly, pre-register as a user. If you think you will be going often, spend the euros to get a one-year user's card. You will be taken more seriously at every desk than if you have a free day visitor's pass or a cheap weekly card. Print out your user number.
Secondly, steel yourself for the tedious and read through the holdings to try to determine which records you want. For example, if you know that your ancestor was an Irishman named MacNamara and an officer in the French Royal Navy in the first half of the 18th century, by reading through the online lists of documents, you will find that he may be listed in Series C - Fonds de la Marine, sub-series C1 - 1705-1789, pages 166-185 - officers' movements. Reserve all that you think may contain the person you seek. The documents will be held at CARAN for you for 5 days.
The Archives nationales are located in the Marais, the part of Paris that still looks quite medieval in places. However, the building is grey and modern on the interior, without much light. You will be directed first to the registration desk, to present your pre-registration number, a photo identification, and money, and to receive another plastic user's card.
Then, you must put all sacks, handbags, briefcases AND pens, etc. in the free lockers. Only papers, notebooks, pencils, laptops, and digital cameras (no flash) are allowed in the reading rooms. The combination locks cause many users confusion, for there is a hidden button on the side that must be pressed to set the combination. A word to the wise. Take with you only the minimum of papers and books necessary, for on leaving the reading room, every single page of every book, every photocopy, every sheet of paper, even the case and lens of the camera will be checked. This can be very time consuming.
The naval records we had reserved were on the second floor, where one can view original documents. We presented our reservation ticket and were handed a large box of green archival cardboard, in which was the original ledger. We were also handed a plastic card with a seat number on it. Finding our seat, we sat down and opened the ledger book. After a few moments of enchantment, we were given, in hushed tones, a green velvet, rolled pad to put under the cover and thus prevent strain on the spine of the book. Little archivist helpers constantly swoop silently about the room checking on users, providing such rolls, snatching away pens, etc.. Back to our enchantment, we found our man along with three pages of his career.
Wanting to research a bit more on him, we found that the next batch of records was on microfilm. The microfilm reading room is on the third floor and is less grand than the second floor's reading room, but quite comfortable. As was the case throughout, the staff were very helpful, explaining how to use the machines, how to order photocopies, etc. When we decided we needed another microfilm roll that we had not pre-ordered, it took only ten minutes to arrive.
There is also an index to the military records, should you have only a name. In red leather volumes on the second floor, you can look up a name and find a reference to the series containing records on that person. Additionally, there is a small library of Atlases, topographical histories, family and regional histories. While there are lifts/elevators to the floors, this little library is up narrow stairs and not accessible to wheelchair users. Staff will, however, retrieve for you any book you like.
11, rue des Quatre Fils
tel: (00 33) 01 40 27 64 19
Line 1 to the Hôtel de Ville Station
Line 8 to the Filles du Calvaire Station
Line 11 to the Rambuteau Station
Number 29 to the Quatre-fils stop
Harry Potter Post Script
Should you have traveled far to visit Paris and do your research and have brought your children along, this post script is for them. If they have been very good and quiet while you devoted yourself to dead people, you can reward them with a small tour based on the life of the real Nicolas Flamel, the philospher whose stone is so important in the first of the Harry Potter books.
Within walking distance of CARAN are three Nicolas Flamel points:
- 1) rue Nicolas Flamel, a tiny street that runs between rue de Rivoli and rue des Lombards, straight from the Tour St. Jacques. Take photos of everyone standing under the street sign. These are rated highly among younger Harry Potter fans.
- 2) book dinner at the Auberge Nicolas Flamel. This will set you back a pretty sou but presumably the children deserve a treat. The restaurant is in the oldest house standing in Paris, and it truly was the home of Nicolas Flamel.
- 3) go over the river to the Musée National du Moyen Age (Cluny), where, on the wall along the stairs you take to the first floor, is the actual tombstone of Nicolas Flamel.
©2015 Anne Morddel