Before the most recent and somewhat fantastical wave of Brussels bashing, France was seriously looking at the genealogy tourism industry and its possibilities. Certain French folk have expressed annoyance that other member countries of the European Union -- Ireland, Poland, Germany, Greece and The Netherlands -- had received large grants to develop tourism programmes aimed at the (often Anglophone) visitor combining genealogical research with tourism. France did not apply for such a grant, but one anthropologist did write an article on the phenomenon of genealogy tours in Ireland.
Whether France be on or off the bandwagon, we have received enough missives from you, Dear Readers, to be sure that many do come to France to find their roots. We suggest the following to help you to have a better experience of it:
- Do the maximum amount of research that you possibly can, using French resources online. By now, you should already have purchased our guide and be using it to find your way through the many websites. Many of the documents that have been made available online are now no longer accessible in the archives that hold them. It would be a pity for you to waste precious research time looking at microfilm in an archive facility that you could have studied on your computer at home.
- Plan to visit specific archives. Do not simply plan to go to a city and expect to be able to figure out the research when you arrive, for you will waste far too much time. Find online the relevant Departmental Archives, Municipal Archives, Town Hall archives, military archives, etc. Note the addresses (and their distance from your hotel!) and opening days and hours. Most stop some services at lunch time and an hour before closing time, so you want to be there early, to have the maximum amount of research time.
- For each archive facility that has its finding aids online, read through them and note the codes, notaire's names and other information. We have watched innumerable novices arrive at the Departmental Archives, be shown the finding aids, and then spend all of their research time trying to understand them and never actually being able to request documents. Do that work at home first.
- Some archives state very clearly on their websites that they are open to researchers by appointment only. Make an appointment long in advance. Some require that a visit and place at a desk or table be booked online in advance. Do that booking well in advance, or you risk being turned away.
- You will want to visit the ancestral village and we have written here before about how to make that a more rewarding experience for you and those you might meet.
- Find cousins via the many websites. Contact them; make appointments to meet them and to visit homes in which your ancestors lived, the churches or synagogues where they worshipped and the cemeteries where they were buried.
- Include in your itinerary local museums and exhibitions of traditional skills. Doing so will help to imagine your ancestors' lives.
- If possible, stay in a chambre d'hôte (furnished room, bed & breakfast) rather than a hotel, for that will give you more of a flavour of local life. Every town hall maintains a list of local registered chambres d'hôtes.
- Join local genealogy associations in advance so that you receive their newsletter and can plan to attend a meeting or event.
- This year, quite a large number of events are planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. If you ancestor fought in that war, you may want to visit battlefields and attend ceremonies. Be sure to look at the exhibits in the Departmental Archives; most of them are presenting something in relation to the War this year.
- Familiarize yourself with national and local public holidays to know when archives and town halls will be closed. And beware of August! It is the month of the traditional family holiday in France and many facilities shut down for a week or two in August. Check the websites to be sure.
Lastly, should your journey take you to the southwest of the country, we shall be spending July and August in the charming city of Périgueux and would be pleased to meet with you and discuss your research.
©2014 Anne Morddel