We continue our exploration of Brest's archives. Since so many of you, Dear Readers, have ancestors who hail from Bretagne, we are trying to make a thorough go of it and report it all.
The Municipal Archives of Brest have, as can be seen in the photo above, an imposing entrance, but it leads to a rather sad demise in progress, while the replacement pants in the offing. You know those tales of the married invalid, incurable and wasting away, while the nurse who tends is bursting with health and vigor and cannot wait for the invalid to die so that the usurpation can begin.
The Municipal Archives of Brest share their space with a branch of the Departmental Archives of Finistère. The former are a wan and forlorn affair. Because the parish and civil registrations of the Municipal Archives are online, along with the city General Council's Deliberations registers, and because the city archives do not hold much more than what is online, only a few old newspapers on microfilm and a clippings file on local notables, no one uses these archives anymore. The poor archivist, so keen to help, had no customers and absolutely nothing to do. Each time a person went to the desk, she looked up hopefully, but no one ever spoke to her.
To whom did they speak? To the archivist of the branch Departmental Archives of Finistère. All of the users in the room were there to use the Departmental Archives and the archivist, a starched and ironed bandanna covering her curls, bounded to be of assistance. None of this requests will be handled every 30 minutes business as at the main archives in Quimper; the very minute we made a request, this archivist dashed off to get the boxes. Her energy, her importance, her efficiency made for excellent service (we saw eleven boxes in under three hours, something of a record) but also made her colleague across the room -- to whom she never said a word -- wilt all the more. It seemed a matter of days before one would be out of a job and the domain would belong to the exultant other.
The value of the holdings at the Departmental Archives branch in Brest is the large amount of documentation from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on prisoners. Brest and some surrounding coastal towns had prisoners from a number of sources:
- Those from ships captured at sea and brought into the port
- Those who were local criminals or runaways
- Those who had escaped the law elsewhere in France and had headed to the coast hoping to flee by sea but who were nabbed instead
Many were condemned to hard labour, many were tossed into Brest's fortress dungeons, and many are listed in the archives.
©2014 Anne Morddel