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The Municipal Archives of Brive-la-Gaillarde



We have been on a little jaunt to Brive-la-Gaillarde, in the south west. We were keen to visit the Archives municipales which, though they have an excellent website (parish and civil registrations, post cards, etc.), have some rather interesting documents that are not yet digitized. As well, we seem to have given unintentionally bad press to municipal archives generally, for a few of you, Dear Readers, responded to our scathing post on the Archives municipales de La Rochelle, (a victim which fully deserved every drop of our venom), by asking us if all municipal or communal archives should be considered as a waste of time.

Not at all. As with everything in life, mediocrity predominates, but some are quite good and others not so.  It is not only money that makes a difference, but a city's or town's commitment to preservation of its historical documents. Some care; some cannot be bothered. Brive-la-Gaillard cares and, though small, has a comparatively big website, a good service, and an enigmatically placed sculpture out front (photo above).

The Reading Room is the tiniest we have yet seen, seating about eight people of average size and extremely good manners. The staff are very helpful and know their collection thoroughly. At least one of them also may have had training to a high level in dealing with clients suffering from senile dementia. 

Some municipal archives, and this is such a case, have documents normally found in the Departmental Archives. They also have out of the ordinary collections of their own. At times, what they have is in better condition and more complete than can be found elsewhere.

Internal passports, for example, are difficult to find, and if found are usually in shreds. This is because they were given for a short period only, had to be shown often and were marked by every passing authority equipped with that bureaucrat's sword of honour, the rubber stamp. Brive-la-Gaillarde has not only some beautifully preserved internal passports but a very nice register as well.

Passport register

In the register can be found page after page of entries for the passports issued in Brive. The full name of the recipient is given, as is the physical description, age, place of birth and sometimes more. The example below turns out to be the record of an internal passport issued to the well-documented émigré from Limoges, Stephen Grellet.

  Grellet passport entry


The folder containing internal passports is not large but contains, as noted, beauties. Below is the passport of a weaver, born in the department of Arriège, and who lived in Algiers.

Balanca passport 1

The real treat is on the back, showing all of the places he had travelled in France:

Balanca passport 2

The majority of the internal passports in this file are for tinkers and others who wandered the country selling wares, colporteurs, a group of people who are often extremely difficult to trace in one's genealogy, yet here they are. Should you have such a one among your French ancestors, and have any idea of the general area where he or she travelled, you might wish to check the internal passports collections of the municipal archives of the region. If they are as good as the collection at Brive, you may find joy.


Archives municipales de Brive-la-Gaillarde

15, rue du Docteur-Massénat

19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde

tel: (+33) 5 55 18 18 50


Open: Monday to Friday, 8.00-12.00 and 13.30-17.00


©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

No annual closure, which is most unusual.