The next talk we attended was by Patrick Vigan, a member of numerous circles in Aquitaine and in Seine-Maritime, in which he described how his hunt for one of his own ancestors -- a captain -- had taught him a great deal about how to research someone who had been in the Merchant Marine, the Marine de Commerce or the Marine Marchande. He ranged in time across the periods of the Revolution, the Directoire, the Consulate and First Empire, and in the records across France: in the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime, Nord and Gironde and at the Service historique de la Défense, of course, in Vincennes and Cherbourg. Essentially, he traced his ancestor through crew lists, passenger lists and other shipping documentation, which then took him to civil registrations.
Mr. Vigan explained the different grades through which a sailor would have passed, from mousse (aged 12-14), to novice (aged 14-16) to matelot, a sailor. A man could remain a matelot all of his life or proceed up through the sous-officier stages to lieutenant and capitaine. He could also move back and forth between the Navy and the Merchant Marine.
Helpful hints that he provided were that one must never overlook the marginal notes, for often much was entered there instead of in the part of the form designed for it. He also pointed out that, where a sailor died overseas, there will be a file and death registration on him in the Archives diplomatiques, hitherto at Nantes, but all being relocated to La Corneuve. At times, this file will contain little, but he found one that had a great many documents on an ancestor who had died in Argentina.
We then went on to hear "Une aide à la localisation des archives privés : la base Bora" by Rosine Cleyet-Michaud, Director of the Departmental Archives of Nord, about finding the locations of various private archives in France using the BORA database. We have known about BORA for a while but confess to have looked at it little. Madame Cleyet-Michaud put paid to that complacency pretty quickly when she showed us all that it can reveal.
Of the hundreds of private archives held around France, some remain private and may be accessed on appointment, while those that have been donated could be anywhere. There is no law that private archives must be donated at all and, if they are, they can be sent to anyone anywhere and not necessarily to the Departmental Archives or to the National Archives. Thus, they form a rather large resource that it is difficult to access because its components are quite a chore to locate.
Forget Google on this one, dearies, BORA is a dream. The entire contents of each archive are not, of course, indexed, but one can search on any word and the results can be quite impressive. A search on the word "généalogie", for example, brings up over four hundred results, archives of family genealogies throughout the country, nearly all in public archives. A search on the corporate family Peugeot, brings seven archives in different parts of France. For each result is given:
- the title of the archive
- its location
- its code
- who produced it
- its contents
- the dates it covers
- how to access it
- reproduction permissions
- its historical importance
- a bibliography of works related to the subject
BORA does not yet include archives that are held in communal or municipal archives or in libraries, so it is not quite the whole panacea, but it is pretty good, we must say. It is supplemented by BORA Photo, which is a database of photographs held in the private archives listed. Once a useful collection is located, one must then begin the long process of correspondence, research by e-mail, and possibly travel, but at least something has been found!
©2011 Anne Morddel