We have been working on our own research of late. It took us back to the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime and, for the first time, to the Municipal Archives of Dieppe. These are not easy to find. They have no website and most of the entries on genealogy websites refer to a facility that no longer has the archives in it. There seems to be no telephone or e-mail address specifically for these archives either.
Dieppe has been an important port for centuries, home to many immigrants from Britain and a few from the United States. Dramatic stories of daring privateers pepper its history. We had an intense yen to see those archives, so we determined to try what looked the most likely place: a médiathèque. Médiathèques are libraries with mixed media in that along with books to loan, they have compact disks, videos, computer games and such items to loan as well.
The Médiathèque Jean Renoir seemed our best hope, so we took the train from Rouen to Dieppe and walked five minutes to the most unprepossessing entry we have encountered in quite a long time (see above). Ugly it may be but we were pleased to learn that somewhere in the building were the archives, entitled the Fonds anciens. After a pleasant wander through the library section, we found in a back corner the entry to the archives.
We sensed a lack of proper respect for and appreciation of local history, perhaps. Down the stairs, we at last came upon the long-sought archives. Notice the pipes overhead?
Some municipal archives have more than others. As we have written often, the Allied bombing of Normandy and Brittany damaged, even obliterated some archives. One never knows what one will find, or not. We found that the Dieppe archives are a little treasure trove, maintained and managed by keen staff.
The archivist was a kindly gentleman with a nicotine addiction that caused frequent disappearances. When he was in the room he explained to us the finding aids then dashed out to search for the cartons we requested as soon as we had written down the requests. He returned carrying in his arms a stack of cartons so high that it surely blocked his vision. He could not bring us enough. Barely had a query left our lips before he was off again to bring another pile of cartons. Never before have we had archival access with such abandon.
As ever, it is in municipal archives where one finds the internal passport registers of the early nineteenth century.
We find these to be particularly wonderful for their descriptions of an individual, such as this of Captain John Skinner, Junior of Boston, aged thirty-five, about six feet tall, and who had light brown hair, a low forehead, light blue eyes, a long nose, a big mouth, round face, and an oval chin with a scar.
Municipal archives also will have any local census that may have been taken. We found one for Dieppe from the Republican year An XIII, 1805 to 1806, some thirty years before the first French national census. Happily, we found the family we were researching, living on the street around the corner from the médiathèque. Additionally, these archives hold a superb collection of early nineteenth vessel accounts, with the names of each of the crew and what they were paid, and lists of the licensed fishermen from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries.
©2017 Anne Morddel