Why not spend some time this new year researching those poor souls whose lives -- perhaps with justification, perhaps not -- never saw anything new or beautiful again: prisoners?* The département of Mayenne has raised the standard yet again with a new database on their website. It contains the names of 42,000 people sent to one of the department's three prisons between the years of 1832 and 1908. It is extremely useful not only for those with ancestors in Mayenne, but for those whose ancestors may have been from elsewhere but ended up in prison there. Thus, it is a good place to look for a French brick wall ancestor.
To find the site, either click on the link above or on the link in the column to the left for the Archives Départementales de La Mayenne and click on the link Archives en ligne to the left on that page, then on Registres d'écrou. Once there, click on the orange line that reads:
consulter la base des registres d'écrou
That brings up a nice, clean and simple search page. We have put in English below how to complete the form (click on it to see a larger version):
We recommend leaving the age and year of imprisonment fields empty, in order to bring up all possible names. Click on Rechercher to start the search or Effacer to clear the form and try again. A sample search result looks like this:
A sample log book page looks like this:
Which we found utterly impossible to read, but those clever folks at La Mayenne put in a useful tool for magnification and moving around the page. Some departments got this bit wrong, with the image not refocusing when magnified, but La Mayenne is one of those which got it right. It takes quite a few seconds to focus. A word to the wise on this point: if, like us, you beat on the mouse a dozen times to enlarge the image significantly, the whole thing freezes in a blur. One must treat the page with delicacy, click the mouse once, wait for the refocus, click again and wait again. The procedure requires rather the same extreme patience and politesse as does dealing with French bureaucrats. How on earth did they manage to digitize that?
A nicely enlarged section looks like this, giving a wondrous amount of information about the person:
Fun site. Enjoy!
* For a suitably horrifying read on life in French prisons even in modern times, we recommend Frank Abagnale's Catch Me If You Can
©2010 Anne Morddel
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