For most of the readers of this blog, it is not a simple matter to travel to France to research in the various Departmental Archives where records of their ancestors might be kept. It is not very easy for many of the French either. Genealogy has been booming in France, but even more so because of the Internet. The Internet makes it possible for the first time to search images of original documents held in archives all over the country. If genealogists in France are happy, those in North America are ecstatic.
But it is slooooow, and uneven. Each department is responsible for its own archives, and each chooses to modernize in its own way. All have seen their visitor numbers surge with the new interest in genealogy, and most have recognized the need to refurbish their facilities. This means that many of them are closed for building works. As we said in a previous post (15 May) there is a nice little map to link one with the websites of the departmental archives. Not all of them have a website, though most do. Not all have digitized their BMDs (baptism/marriage/death records), not even half. Not all have modern reading rooms or even plans to update their facilities, but there is hope.
Those with building works in progress or planned are:
- Haute Marne
- Pyrenées At;antiques
- Haute Pyrenées
- Haute Garonne
Those planning to digitize at least some of their records between now and next year are:
- Pyrenées Atlantiques
In many cases, they are behind schedule. In some, they plan to digitize very little and go slowly. Of course, with the current scary financial times we are in, some are forced to wait indefinitely.
One department that has done brilliantly, however, is La Mayenne (53). Before plans to modernize were even considered, the use of the La Mayenne archives had "exploded spectacularly", as the director, Joël Surcouf has said. The users were a noisy group, demanding better service. Unusually for complainers, they were also ready to help, and the management was ready to work together with instead of dictate to their clients. Always bearing in mind that their primary clients are historians, with genealogists a very close second, they set out to create what their users wanted.
The archives of La Mayenne have digitized the originals of not only the actes and parish records, but also the ten-year tables, all marriages of the 19th century, lists of names from the censuses, all names of habitations, military registrations, all notarial records in their holding (gold mine, that!), identity cards, marginal notes from the register books, land records, Cassini maps, plot number maps, and more to come. All are cross-indexed, cross-referenced, and fully searchable.
This remarkable achievement was done via close collaboration with the users that involved some 147 of them as volunteers. As these things go, it is quite a success story. La Mayenne's is certainly the best of the digitized departmental archives (though that of Marne is also very, very good. Both are in the list in the panel to the right.) It is a very comforting example of just how good the archives can be and a source of optimism about the future.
©2009 Anne Morddel