"Mastering Genealogical Proof" and French Genealogy - Part 7
"Mastering Genealogical Proof" and French Genealogy - Part 8

Find a Photograph of Your Ancestor


Photo Album

As the Departmental Archives put more of their collections on their websites, new delights emerge. Postcards of village squares and churches have been hitherto the only photographic fare. There is a church in every town and a nineteenth century photograph on a postcard of every single church, it seems. Looking at them all, one becomes aware of how terribly important each must have been to its community, as Proust wrote of:

"...the memory of those aspects of the steeple of Combray from the streets behind the church. Whether one saw it at five o'clock when going to call for letters at the post-office, some doors away from one, on the left, raising abruptly with its isolated peak the ridge of housetops; or whether, if one were looking in to ask of news of Mme Sazerat, one's eyes followed that ridge which had now become low again after the descent of its other slope, and one knew that it would be the second turning after the steeple; or again if, pressing further afield, one went to the station and saw it obliquely, showing in profile fresh angles and surfaces, like a solid body surprised at some unknown point in its revolution; or  if, seen from the banks of the Vivonne, the apse, crouched muscularly and heightened by the perspective, seemed to spring upwards with the effort which the steeple was making to hurl its spire-point into the heart of heaven -- it was always to the steeple that one must return, always the steeple that dominated everything else..."

Now, an interesting addition to the digitized images is that of photograph albums and photographers' archives. In some cases the photos are personal; in others, they may have been in an album created by an institution such as a hospital or school; in others an album was created to document a particular event of importance to the town; or there may have been a local photographer who snapped anything and everything and kept it all. For just a few examples:

  • The Departmental Archives of Nord have  an album commemorating the 1911 international axhibition ot Roubaix. It is full of photographs of townsfolk and visiting dignitaries, most carefully identified.
  • The Departmental Archives of Dordogne have on their website the collection of snap shots taken by the amateur photographer, Léo Laffargue-Guimard, from 1895 to 1929. Local people have contributed to the identification of the subjects of the photographs.
  • The Departmental Archives of l'Hérault have, in the Robert Valette collection, photographs of many people during the Second World War.

There are many more. You will have to check the Archives for the department in which your ancestors lived. Then, it is a long slog through the photographs, for they are not indexed in most cases. Thus, you must look at the descriptive details for every photo of interest. However, you could get lucky and, as did Jérémie Bourillon, find your great-grandfather in a photo of a group of soldiers.

Let us know what you find!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy