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Obstructing Access to French Archives - an Old Problem

OFPRA

Oh, Dear Readers, we have been experiencing a series of unsuccessful moments of late. Recently, we were told that our suggestions and aids to you in your French genealogical research are "too professional for the ordinary family genealogist". Dear Readers, we take that as an insult to you and to anyone who is striving to provide the best possible history of his or her family.

We are as aware as anyone of how the initial thrill at the volume and ease of genealogical discoveries on the Internet can make us balk at anything that requires more work, and call it a "brick wall". Yet, if we build our family history on only the easy discoveries, we risk producing something so scant as to be minimalist. We are reminded, by way of comparison, of our hoydenish mother, who studied piano all her life.

She was enamoured of the difficult études and mazurkas of Chopin but was not really willing to do the work to master them. Instead, she used her considerable charm to convince her teacher to rewrite the pieces, leaving out all of the "hard notes". She then blissfully played these denuded ditties, indifferent to the fact that they sounded more like nursery rhymes than Chopin. Surely, Dear Readers, you do not wish your genealogical research to be the minimum, composed only of what was quick and easy to find? Surely, though some of the skills and procedures we explain in this blog are a struggle, some of you have found the results to have been worth it?

At the same time, we do try to help here with clear and concise explanations of how to use various French websites and archives. We make a point of testing every website before we write of it here. It was in an effort to try out a newly announced website that we ran into another unsuccessful moment. 

There have been a number of genealogy bloggers in France who have passed on the publicity concerning new access to government archives concerning refugees and stateless persons, Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides (OFPRA). This was and is an important part of the government for it is this office that decides who receives asylum and who is to be granted refugee status. In its early days, it was particularly involved with refugees from the Russian Revolution who found their way to France. 

Their archives are open to the public after a certain waiting period. For files concerning individuals, that wait is fifty years after the date of the last document entered into the file. The recent exciting announcement stated that the files concerning people who had been granted Nansen passports can now be seen online. With a modicum of fanfare, OFPRA's website encourages "Internet users, descendants of refugees, genealogists and historians" to apply to use the site and to participate in indexing the documents.

We applied. Receiving no response, we applied again. A few days later, we received an old-fashioned, possessive archivist's haughty rejection. Our "interest", we read, was inadequate. Our two applications were perceived as a devious effort to get round the barrier, though we had not suspected its existence, but a barrier does indeed exist. We reread the invitation to the public to apply. Can one find a broader term than "Internet user"?

We have the impression that the invitation and publicity were written by someone younger or perhaps by the senior managers of OFPRA and that the archivist, possibly someone much older, did not approve of the move and is doing all that he or she can to obfuscate it. Oh, how many times we have seen this innate desire to thwart! 

We urge any and all of you, Dear Readers, if you have an ancestor who had a Nansen Passport and was in France, not to take the lazy route but to apply to OFPRA for files concerning that ancestor. It clearly will not be easy but do not give up. When you succeed, please do write and tell us about it.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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