Madame Martine Cornède, who is the Director of the Archives nationales d'Outre-Mer (the National Archives of Overseas [Territories and Colonies], known by the acronym ANOM), gave one of the first lectures at the Congress, entitled "Comment aborder les recherches généalogiques sur l'Outre-Mer". Anyone whose French ancestors were born, lived, married or died in one of France's colonies or territories would be interested, so the hall was packed. In the audience were some extremely knowledgeable researchers. They often corrected Mme. Cornède, who very politely thanked them each time and allowed them to complete their responses without interruption. (We have long maintained that the nicest French people are the archivists and librarians; Mme. Cornède's delicate and charming tolerance of theses know-it-alls confirmed us in our belief.)
She explained why this branch of the National Archives had been transferred from Paris to a tourist town in the south. As is always the case with archives, more space was required, which pretty much eliminated expensive Paris. The Director General of the National Archives at the time, André Chamson, selected Aix-en-Provence because a new cluster of universities was planned for the city. Over the past thirty years or so, ANOM have worked intensely to digitize and, since 2003, to put online their holdings, which much improves the possibilities for the armchair researcher.
ANOM contain thirty-eight kilometers of files divided into two main collections:
- The archives of the ministries and Secretaries of State responsible for the French colonies, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries,
- The archives from those colonies and from Algeria which had been transferred to France before the former gained independence
They cover every aspect of the history of the colonies:
- Establishment of a government administration
- Colonization efforts
- Slave trade
- Politics and surveillance before and during the wars of independence
Then, there is what ANOM do not have, which is copies of records, including parish and civil registrations, that were in the possession of the former colony at the time of independence and of which duplicates had not already been sent to France. Standard procedure with French parish or civil registrations was for a birth, marriage or death to be recorded -- in duplicate -- in the town where it happened, and for the duplicate registers (collection de greffe) to have been sent to the departmental administrative offices. In some but by no means all colonies, a third copy was made and sent to Nantes, in France. If no third copy were made and sent to France, then ANOM does not have the parish or civil registrations -- registres paroissiaux or the actes d'état civil -- for that colony. The only copies remain in the ex-colony. PLEASE NOTE: This is the case for Louisiane.
Mme. Cornède went on to detail what else in ANOM's collections are of interest to the genealogist:
- Death registers of military hospitals located in the colonies, actes de décès militaires
- Population censuses, recensement de la population. These are arranged by country. There is no census for Algeria
- Lists of refugees
- Passenger lists, listes des passagers, though they are very hard to search, for they are arranged by the port of departure, the port of arrival, chronologically, and there is no name index
- Artisans and workers hired on contract to work for a limited period of time in a colony, concessionnaires et les engagés
- Undesirables, such as the bagnards and "mauvais garçons", the political exiles, vagabonds, beggars, and such, many of whose files are online
- The Military registers, registres matriculaires, for Martinique, Guyane, Madagascar, Nouvelle Caledonie, and other colonies
- Personnel files, dossiers, on people who worked in the colonies, such as teachers; these are fragmentary
- Personnel files on administrators and judges, apparently the most complete of all the collections
The website of ANOM and its search facility, IREL, are excellent and ever growing. The secret is to keep checking back with it and to keep searching not only on names, but on a military regiment or a civilian profession. However, if it is Louisiana parish registers you are after, you must look in Louisiana.
©2013 Anne Morddel