We have been conducting research in the regions and came to the realization that, while we have oft mentioned the importance in French genealogy of the mairie -- the town hall -- and their archives, we have not yet told of a visit to one. We now do so.
Recall that the mairie for each commune (French for a community, town, village, arrondissement, etc. and NOT meaning an ashram, religious or utopian group living arrangement) is where one set of original parish registers are kept and where civil registrations are initially recorded and one set of the registers kept. The other sets are in the Departmental Archives of the department in which the town is located. The value of the set kept at the Departmental Archives is that, when one does not know the commune, they are easier to search, especially now that so many have websites with images of the tables décennales and of the registers. The websites also mean that the records can be searched via the internet. The value of the mairie's set is that they may have been updated, as new information dwindled in. The failure of each is that the set in the Departmental Archives is not ever updated and that few communes have their archives online.
We visited the mairie of the town of Excideuil, in the department of Dordogne. There, we found a standard interior, with the obligatory bust of Marianne, symbol of La France, and the equally obligatory portrait of the current president:
As is customary with French civil servants, the staff were quite officious, brusque and, authoritaire, as one says in France, which means so much more than simply authoritarian or bossy. Someone who is being authoritaire is being insufferably schoolmarmish in its worst form of frustration, tyranny and mediocrity. Yet, when we said we were keen on genealogy and would like to see the registers, smiles broke out where snarls had been, kindness and consideration exuded where rudeness was before. We were welcomed to view the cupboard where the registers, dating back to the mid-eighteenth century, were stored, along with office supplies and a couple of comfy cushions:
Proudly, rebound registers were offered for our viewing. We chose one that had not been rebound, a parish register from 1774. It was placed on the table that held pamphlets detailing benefits for senior citizens, and we were encouraged to take our time.
This graciousness that erupts for genealogical researchers has been the norm, in our experience, at most mairies. We hope that you may have the opportunity to visit a mairie for your research, for the discoveries can be important and the staff gratifyingly helpful. As we explained in our post A Double Sens, should you be in a position to contribute information on an individual who appears in the registers, allowing for updating the record, it would be considered as equally generous. If you cannot visit, most will reply to postal requests for copies of registrations.
©2012 Anne Morddel