Today's excursion, dear readers, took us on the sweltering métro to the stop at Maubert-Mutualité, in the 5th arrondissement. We were hunting the genealogy of a policeman and a suspected criminal and had high hopes that the archives of the police, which are held in the Musée des Collections Historiques de la Prefecture de Police, would have our men. One passes a police guard of two to enter the fortress and, at the mere word "archives", one is waived upstairs without question.
On the second floor, one finds two cramped, film-noir rooms jam-packed with cartons of files and books. There are tables and ample light for visitors to work. There are forms to fill out to request anything. We found there to be almost no organisation, but the archivists were wonderfully helpful. Our policeman had lived in the early part of the twentieth century in Paris, and they produced a card on him which held just enough information to carry our research forward.
We were sent to the second room for help on our suspected criminal. It held four huge desks in a space designed for one. Fans whirred, papers fluttered, secretaries nibbled biscuits. A wondrous young archivist, who seemed to have the most knowledge for everyone brought him their questions, listened as we described our hunt for a possible criminal. "He may have attacked a child in north Paris in the 1940s," we began.
"Oh, those files are a mess," he said. "Since no one can see them, they have not been sorted. I am not even sure where in the basement they are." Because a child was involved the file, if there was one -- and there was no way of knowing -- would have been sealed for seventy-five years. "You haven't long to wait, now," the archivist cheerily told us. He allowed us to snap the photo above of a file on his desk.
The archives contain files on police, criminals, major crimes, various forms of punishment, prisons, police uniforms, etc. They also have a major collection of photographs. Obviously, the genealogical value of these archives is significant but for a narrowly defined group of people.
The police archives on the years of collaboration during the Second World War soon will be unsealed. Classification and digitization has all ready begun. They are expected to be made available on the internet in 2015.
On our way out, we strolled through the museum and looked at massive, iron locks in glass cases and some rather repetitious paintings of prison walls.
Musée des Collections Historiques de la Prefecture de Police
1 bis, rue des Carmes
Métro : Maubert-Mutualité
Open : Monday to Friday, 9.00 to 17.00, Saturday 10.00 to 17.00
There is no charge.
©2010 Anne Morddel