We have been reading Anna Funder's very good book, Stasiland, and are thoroughly chilled by the excesses of tyranny she describes and the nit-picky, robotic enslavement of people via dozens of little documents that a certain rigid type of mind seems to worship. In France as well as in Germany, lives have been thoroughly documented by bureaucrats for a few generations. Is it too much? Does it matter? We sit uncomfortably on the fence. As a genealogist, we are quite pleased when we come across an old document, and study its every detail; yet as an individual in the modern world, we detest that same documentation for it strips us of privacy and of the comfort of anonymity. But here, we are the genealogist, so on to personal documents.
These pages are from a mobilsation card for a Jean Faustin of Périgueux (click on each image to see a larger version). Such cards were part of a man's military papers and, as military service was compulsory for many years, there are many of these cards in existence.
It shows his date and place of birth, his profession, his parents' names. For the voyeur in us all, there is the tickle of reading his physical description: a bit under five foot two, with a pointy nose.
Every French family has a kitchen drawer or an old box under the bed with dozens of such documents. Identity cards, passports, military cards, old ration tickets, driving permits, cards for the health service, cards for school, cards for retirement. Somehow, when a relative dies, the documents get tossed in the family heap. It can be a rotting mess, eroded with glue and old crumbs, but if such a heap has survived in the papers of your French ancestors, consider yourself fortunate.
We know of no site that explains and shows them all, but many individuals in France have put photos of their own family's documents online. They can be used as a learning tool, after a fashion. A particularly good one is geneanneogie's page of vieux papiers. The dealer website, Toupapier.com, has a section of old documents with good images and some description.
Have a look.
©2012 Anne Morddel