Two and a half years ago, we wrote about the Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris. Back then, the collection was excellent, but the space for researchers cramped, to say the very least. Better to say it was squashed, stuffy, a claustrophobe's nightmare. We are pleased to write that things are much improved.
We have been hunting Parisians who died in the early part of the nineteenth century. Because of "That Fire", death registrations for many were never "reconstituted", that is, no relative came forward with alternative documentation to prove when and where the person died in Paris. This was often the case with those deceased whose families did not know, or perhaps not care, or perhaps not want to remember.
If the person were noteworthy, some little blurb may have appeared in the papers, but it was not really the custom of the day. For the period we were researching, the papers were too busy reporting Napoleonic glories to bother with the deaths of Paris's ordinary folk. One alternative place to search is the register books of the Paris morgue, Les Repertoires des Cadavres déposés à La Morgue de Paris. We gathered up our notebooks and camera and hopped the Métro down to the police archives. How pleasant they have made the place:
It is possible to breathe there, now. The staff seem much more relaxed and are even more helpful than they were before. There are now a few lockers and some very nice work tables. We settled down and - excess of politesse: indices and finding aids were brought to us where we sat! Excellent!
We were seeking a suicide, a man who jumped from a window in 1803. The registers for that year, and their duplicates, were available. He was not there, but plenty of other people were:
Click on the above image to see a larger version
What is useful for the genealogist is that many -- about half -- of the bodies were identified. What is not useful is that there is no alphabetical index. The registers are merely chronological lists, so it would be wise to have a rough idea of when the death may have occurred.
These registers should be used as a last resort, for bodies were taken to the morgue only if they were:
- not claimed by family
- not immediately identified
- found in the Seine or some other public place
Thus, you would want to search here if you suspect your ancestor were murdered or committed suicide in Paris. Should you find him or her in the registers, you will also find:
- the date and time the body was brought to the morgue
- a very detailed physical description
- a descriptive listing of the clothing on the body
- details of any books or papers found on the body
- exactly where the body was found
- cause of death
- additional notes as to later identification: name, parents, place of birth
- date of burial
The morgue registers cover the years from 1798 to 1973 and are in sub-series LA . Opening times vary, so check the website and even ring to be sure they will be open on the day you wish to visit.
They are a fascinating read!
©2013 Anne Morddel