We live in a strange time, to be sure, and our pursuit of genealogy is not entirely free of that strangeness. The French government has recognized that personal data is a new resource, and it may be taxable. Our names, our addresses, our professions and preferences, our family, what we read, eat, buy, where we go on holiday, all, all is for sale. As individuals, we usually give away this data -- and with it our privacy -- in exchange for free use of certain Internet services or for shopping discounts or other such trivia. Often, it is taken from us surreptitiously. Occasionally, it is used to commit a crime; more often it is sold in bulk. There are days when we find the whole process a little too close to cannibalism.
What remains of the personal data of our ancestors is what we, as genealogists, hunt and are willing to buy. The miners of personal data of the dead for genealogical purposes sometimes move a bit too close to that of the living. We admire greatly Kenyatta Berry, President of the Association of Professional Genealogists, for her recent editorial cautioning genealogists against letting their research enthusiasms take them too close to violating the privacy of living people.
The technology that has turned our private lives into a commodity that is bought and sold by others is the same used by those claiming to protect some country's national security by harvesting those same private details. The recent dust-up at the Service Historique de la Défense is really a dispute between proponents of those two uses -- marketing for profit vs. hoarding for national security -- of a collection of antiquated personal data. Data that was collected about those doing their military service is now for sale, and genealogists are generally the buyers. Let's face it: in time, the data collected by the Prism programme will not pay for its own storage and, in one form or another, will be marketed for profit.
In spite of the military archives at Vincennes being currently closed and some of the websites still down, it would seem that the free market view of getting the personal data in the archives to turn a trick will prevail over national security view of keeping it in a burqa for our protection. Proof of this may be seen in last November's publication of a short and perfect guide to researching one's ancestors in France's military archives.
- Your ancestor was an officer
- Your ancestor was a junior officer, a soldier or a seaman
- Your ancestor was a fisherman or in the merchant marine
- Your ancestor was in the air force
- Your ancestor was in the national police (gendarmerie)
- Your ancestor was a non-combatant
- Your ancestor was wounded in action
- Your ancestor was a prisoner of war
- Your ancestor received a military pension
- Your ancestor was tried by a court-martial
- Your ancestor served overseas
- Your ancestor served or was a victim of the Twentieth century's wars
- Civil registrations and military burials
Each section gives a pithy and precise set of directions for how to use the archives pertaining to that category. There is a list of useful addresses and there are tables that explain military recruitment and the maritime administrative regions. As always with French publications, the index is dismal. It is a handbook that is ideal and indispensable. Since most of the SHD is inaccessible at the moment, you might study this book to hone your military research skills while you wait for the archives to reopen.
Vos ancêtres à travers les archives militarires
Sandrine Heiser and Vincent Mollet
Paris: Service Historique de la Défense, 2012
ISBN: 978 2 1112 9051 8
2013 Anne Morddel