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Unique Collections in Departmental Archives

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We have received a missive from a student of genealogy who is working on her "accreditation for France through the ICAPGen". She asked about specifics concerning the different departments that would be useful for a researcher to know, adding "for example...what makes a certain region stand out or be far as their documents?"

We have, of course, produced a booklet on our visits to some of the Departmental Archives, in which we discuss their collections, facilities and services (see the column to the right on this page, or click here.) Yet, perhaps all of you, Dear Readers, might wish to know a bit more on this subject, so we thought to consider it more deeply.

We can make no claim to know where all special collections are stored throughout France, nor even to know, of the some one hundred Departmental Archives, all of their best secrets as to documentation. However, here is what we have come across:

  • Those of the Franche-Comté region, especially the Departmental Archives of Doubs, do not have, so far as w know, any special collection. However, quite a large number of the residents upped sticks for other lands, either for religious or economic reasons, especially during the nineteenth century and there are often comments about them -- such as we have seen nowhere else -- in the civil registrations. A death registration of a child may mention that the parents are in Connecticut, for example, or that of a parent that one son is in Ohio.
  • The Departmental Archives of Charente-Maritime, the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) Archives at Rochefort and the Municipal Archives of La Rochelle, all quite close to one another, together are a fabulous research centre on the Protestants of the region, the Acadian refugees who landed there and the naval officers and sailors who were on ships leaving from Rochefort. 
  • The Departmental Archives of Gironde, at Bordeaux, have a significant collection of passport applications for people sailing from that port for the French colonies, Louisiana and South America.
  • There were, especially in the nineteenth century, many British nationals who lived in France, some families for generations. Some lived in Paris, but many congregated in the towns along the coast closest to England, especially at Calais. They sent their sons to British boarding schools, while their daughters stayed at home to become fluent in French and expert at needlework and cookery. The Departmental Archives of Pas-de-Calais and of Nord can yield some interesting discoveries about these British citizens, especially in the census returns.
  • Many do not know that there were four cities that were Protestant strongholds during the years of tolerance. The best known was La Rochelle; the others were Montauban, Cognac and La Charité-sur-Loire. These were guarantied places of refuge for Protestants and they fought ferociously when those rights were rescinded. While many seem to know of the siege of La Rochelle, fewer know that the same happened at Montauban, this one earlier and unsuccessful. The Departmental Archives of Tarn-et-Garonne, in Montauban, have, to our knowledge, no specific collection on the Protestants, but are full of documentation on them (and on their persecution of Catholics) throughout their Ancien régime archives.
  • The Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime have many of the records for ships that left the port of Le Havre. Hundreds of passenger lists exist on microfilm there and they have recently put online lists discovered in Le Havre.
  • The Departmental Archives of the Vendée have put on their website images of all of the military records from the SHD concerning the desperate counter-Revolutionary war fought there in 1793, and its brutal suppression, with the slaughter of the population. We know of no other Departmental Archives that has an entire series such as this from the SHD on their website.
  • Scattered throughout the collections of the Departmental Archives of Yvelines are documents concerning the Irish community there in the eighteenth century.

Links to all of the Departmental Archives websites can be seen in the left-hand column on this page. Have any of you Dear Readers found other specialised collections that have been particularly useful? Please do tell in the comments section to this post.

Lastly, we recommend to the student whose question prompted this post to read as much French history and geography as possible and never to stop. Only by knowing more about France and its people will you become expert at researching French families. Good luck with the accreditation!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy