If your ancestor were an academic of some stature, an artist, a scientist, architect, philosopher, or some such, he or she may have been elected to the Institut de France. The Institute incorporates a number of academies:
- The French Academy
- The Academy of Belles-Lettres
- The Academy of Sciences
- The Academy of Fine Art
- The Academy of Ethics and Political Science
Membership to these academies is for life and the numbers limited. The Académie française, the French Academy, was established in 1635 before the idea of a population explosion was ever mooted, and has only forty places. Your ancestor may have been eligible but, if no member died soon enough to make a place available, not elected. Perhaps unfairly, a person may be a member of more than one of the academies, thus occupying more than one of the precious spaces.
We have been researching a member and had occasion to visit the archives and chat with the archivist of the Institute. We entered and sighed. No matter the massive, beautiful and historic building, no matter the prestige, the archives were in the same tumbledown neglect as in so many other places. Nevertheless, the archivist was most helpful and kindly pulled the membership file we sought. It was a fine trove of detail on the man's life and work, well worth the trip there.
To find a file on a member, write or e-mail the archivist with the full name and, if at all possible, the correct Academy and the date of election to it. He will verify if there is a file or not. Then, it is necessary to visit the archives to photograph the file, for photocopying and scanning are not permitted.
Archives de l'Institut de France
23 Quai Conti
75270 Paris Cedex 06
tel: (+33) 01 44 41 4 41
Hours open: 14.00 to 17.30, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
©2011 Anne Morddel