For those who have been waiting patiently for a single database, neatly indexed, with all of the French national censuses, à la Ancestry.com in the U.S., keep waiting. As has been reported many times here, the censuses are, in many cases, available on the websites of the Departmental Archives, but not all such have websites and the censuses have no name index at all. We have also reported on the fierce determination of the company NotreFamille, owners of the online genealogy database, genealogie.com, to get their hands on those censuses. We told of how they sent an intimidating letter to the archivists, and of the government's report about this possibly constituting a privacy violation.
In an intensification of the battle, the Departmental Archives of Cantal and NotreFamille went to court over the latter's intention to put the images of the department's censuses on its website, index them, and charge a fee for users to search the index and view the pages. The Archives flatly refused to allow this. It was the Archives who lost the case, last July, and they were even ordered to pay 1000 euros in court costs to NotreFamille.
NotreFamille tried to soften the blow by saying that they, by doing the indexing, would be providing a service to the Archives. The Archives responded that they are all ready doing their own indexing in collaboration with users and they do not need such help, thank you very much. "A partner works hand-in-hand and does not put his hand in your pocket," asserted the director of the Cantal archives, Edouard Bouyé.* He begins to look a bit quixotic, putting principle before cash, for he has not given up the fight. The archives have lodged an appeal against the decision.
This is no tempest in a teacup. This is a test case that could directly affect all of the Departmental Archives of the country and all of their holdings. Up to now, they have been developing, each at its own pace to be sure, websites and services aimed at providing access and services to users free of charge. For most, it is this last qualification that is of paramount importance: the various collections in the Archives, as a part of the nation's history, are accessed for free.
The elephant in the room is the looming giant of a market of descendants of French immigrants to North America, all of whom would gladly pay to be able to search French records, indexed and gathered together, online. Will satisfying their hunger alter French law and principles concerning France's patrimony? If the Archives lose this case, will they also all eventually lose their clientèle, as people turn to the ease of online searching, resulting in the Archives becoming de facto service providers (paid for by the tax payer) to NotreFamille?
©2011 Anne Morddel