April Fool's Day, the day of practical jokes known as 1er [premier] avril is upon us again and some suspect that the much-touted, much longed-for website of the Departmental Archives of Finistère is a poisson d'avril, e.g. a very bad smelling practical joke. Guillaume de Morant calls the new website feeble and points out that it has put online the parish and civil registrations of only seventy-nine towns out of the 283 in the department. In many cases, only the tables décennales (TD) are available.
He also points out one of the biggest flaws, that there is no link on the opening page to the digitized registers or other documents, les archives numérisées. To find them, one must click on the Guide des communes, then choose a commune from the alphabetical listing, which brings up a page about the commune, giving its parishes, the canton and arrondissement, the address of the mairie, the size and population, and FINALLY, on the right of the page, a list of digitized collections from which to choose.
This structure seems at first a potentially good idea, for though all of the Departmental Archives are arranged by series first, and within the series by location and chronology, the websites are primarily used by non-professional genealogists, who generally want to make a search on a family in a particular place. So, being able to go to a page on a town and to see all of the documentation available for that town is to the researcher's advantage.
It does not quite work out advantageously, sad to say. We lost count of how many differnt times we had to click on a page in order to go in what was essentially a circle from the commune page for -- as an example Bannelac -- to all censuses in the department, to a string of census options, and on and on until we got to the census for Bannelac. Only those for the years 1836, 1841 and 1846 were available. It would seem that the user is expected to know, in elaborate detail, the entire structure and subject heirarchy of the classification system for the archives, the cadre de classement, which is not very handily, reproduced in its entirety on the website.
Bizarrely, from the opening page, one can take another, shorter route, though it is camouflaged as accès aux inventaires, access to the finding aids. One can choose:
- "simple search", which is anything but,
- by the classification order, for which one really needs an archivist's diploma,
- and then, bingo!, by the preposterously named, par formulaires "archives", that is, by using an archives form.
Click on the last, and you are taken to a more familiar and pretty straightforward search page, by series type.
The preparation of the website has taken over four years and there are more than a million images online. The Departmental Archives will continue to put up more images periodically, but nothing will correct what we suspect is the creation of academic arrogance causing befuddlement in website design. (Look at the incredibly long URL strings, always a sign of confused web design.) It is, malheureusement not a poisson d'avril, but a classic case of the type that gives rise to the old nugget of a question, "How can someone so smart be so stupid?"
For those of you with ancestors from Finistère, you have our sympathies.
©2012 Anne Morddel