Sad to say, the long-used and perfectly respectable term for a person's written thoughts not intended for publication, "private writings", has been binned and such writings renamed by people who should know better as "egodocuments", giving the terminology of a certain philosopher of mind whose fundamental theories on relationships have been largely debunked rather more prominence than we should like to see. But there it is. "Egodocuments" are now a field of historical research, with a couple of French historians from the Sorbonne -- Jean-Pierre Bardet and François-Joseph Ruggiu -- leading the way.
Why should those researching their French ancestry give a zut about this new and obscure corner of academic pursuit? Because private writings include diaries, travel journals, various manuscripts, commonplace books, personal meditations, memoires and the like. And because many of these have ended up in archives. And because Messieurs Bardet and Ruggiu run a team of people who are working on locating every such document in every archives facility or library in France, and listing it on their website, Les écrits du for privé. Not only are the documents listed, their location and description are given, they may be searched on the website by many criteria. They have not been scanned, but partial transcriptions are given.
If you come from a line of those who have the uncontrollable need to write their thoughts, hopes, fears, sermons, reasonings, meditations, then you could find an ancestor's scribblings here. There are two ways to search the collection, the division apparently being based on who provided the funding, an oddity which may indicate that all too common academic malady, testiness, somewhere.
- Base de repérage - built in partnership with the Archives de France and showing their strict divisions of archival territory. One searches first in the archives hierarchy: national, departmental or municipal, then, many useless clicks later, in a list of locations.
- Inventaire analytique - built in partnership with the Agence nationale de la recherche and allowing for searches on names, regions and subjects.
We did a simple search for anything written by a woman in Franche-Comté. It brought "Personal Notes on Religion and Education" by an anonymous woman in Jura, writing in the late nineteenth century to her daughter. It is signed by two priests. There is a partial transcription. Another search brought the "Memoires of Madame Meslier de Rocan, née Barbe Henry d'Aulnois, written by herself and dedicated to her daughter" name her sisters.
The site has glitches. If the search has too many results on the Inventaire analytique, there is an error message repeated for each result not shown, it seems, that is extremely annoying. Still, the value is that there are quite a lot of names and family relationships in these documents, and this website could be of some slight help to the genealogist.
Why not give it a go?
©2013 Anne Morddel