To many non-French, the name of the town, Arras, recalls the stories of the terrible battles there in 1914 and 1917 and the large Arras cemetery of World War I dead. As is often the case when horrors were too close, the French never easily mention the trenches, but will instead say something blandly cheerful along the lines of "Ah the north coast!" Speak of Arras to a Parisian, and he will look puzzled. "Arras? Where is that?"
Arras is less than an hour from Paris by train from the Gare du Nord and it is there that the Departmental Archives of Pas-de-Calais are located. In truth, there are two locations, for Pas-de-Calais is the first departmental archives we have encountered that has divided their holdings into two groups: those records most often requested for genealogy, and those most often requested by those researching other aspects of the department's history. Microfilms of all parish and civil registers, census records online, and military registers are all at the location in the centre of town at the Centre Georges-Besniers (the photo above). Outside of town, at the Centre Mahaut-d'Artois in Dainville, are all other records. Whether this division was intentional, as it seems, or has more to do with space issues, it works extremely well. The staff at the facility in Arras, unlike in so many other departmental archives, are expert at genealogical research and quite willing to be of help to their many patrons, both hobbyists or professional, since that is the exclusive function of their branch.
Historically, the economy of Pas-de-Calais was based on mining, a notoriously hard and short life for its labourers. Many emigrated, often from one of the department's ports, usually Calais or Boulogne-sur-Mer. Thus, the archives are the focus of research for many descended from those emigrants. Currently, the department's website has the ten-year indices online but not yet the images of the parish and civil registers, some of the military recruitment records, but not the early ones, and land records. Until more is available online, for complete research on a family, one must go there.
For research to find the grave of an ancestor who fought in Pas-de-Calais in the Great War:
- The website of The Long, Long Trail lists the divisions that fought there in 1917
- The website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists Commonwealth soldiers buried there, or whose names are among the 35,000 on the Arras Memorial
- The website of the military historian, Paul Reed, Battlefields1418, has a significant amount of information on Arras during World War I.
- For excellent links to information on all the wartime cemeteries in the department of Pas-de-Calais, the website Memoire de Pierre is highly recommended.
Les Archives du Pas-de-Calais
12 place de la Préfecture
tel: (+33) 3 21 21 61 90
1 rue du 19 mars 1962
tel: (+33) 3 21 71 10 90
©2010 Anne Morddel