Municipal and Communal Archives

Bordeaux Municipal Archives - Archives Bordeaux Métropole

Bordeaux Municipal Archives

We have been junketting again, this time to Bordeaux and that city's excellent archival and library facilities. We revisited the Departmental Archives of the Gironde. We then carried on our research in the municipal archives of Bordeaux, called the Archives Bordeaux Métropole, for their collections cover the entire metropolitan area of Bordeaux.

In truth, we recommend that researchers use the website of these archives, for getting there is rather unpleasant. The tram stop, Jardin Botanique, is quite a trek away, down dirty roads with broken paving stones, past gaping car parks and grim bungalows of a bygone era. Around a wide curve one comes to a long, weedy road parallel to and fenced off from a railway hub; this is the last stretch. In case one were not already sunk into a gloomy view of our dystopian inner cities, the wall that lines this stretch, topped with barbed wire, has been painted with a long mural that seems to depict the last moment of the dinosaurs on this planet. Dinosaur Armageddon being a parallel, of course, for the warning that this little enclave of Hell gives.


Bordeaux Dinosaurs


Dinosaurs Bordeaux


Finding Bordeaux Archives

After the last dead dinosaur, we came to the archives, not at all cheered by the prison architecture the good city fathers selected (see the top photo). One enters to find a row of lockers blocking the view of a rather nice display.


Archives security

We went through the usual routine of registering, a process that is free but is required of all users. One must show some sort of identification, such as a passport or identity card, fill out a form and then receive a user's card. When we completed this, the receptionist then put in front of us a small box of bottle caps. 

"Choose one," she said, briskly. We stared, perhaps stupidly, certainly confused. She shook the box, rattling the bottle caps. "For the locker," she added, impatiently. We really were quite lost as to how a bottle cap could possibly operate a locker. She sighed with impatience and rattled the box again until a few small, plastic tokens rose to the surface. A Wittgensteinian "Aha moment" came to us. It would appear that the receptionist's love of soda and of carefully saving the bottle caps had overshadowed her responsibility to maintain a few tokens for archives users. As the very concept of customer service is anathema to French civil servants, this indifference to users comes as no surprise. We fished out a token from the bottle cap collection and went to a locker to deposit all that is not permitted in the reading room. The receptionist smiled her approval. 

Bordeaux Archives

The prison theme continued in the reading room, but there, the staff were friendly, intelligent and helpful. Our reason for visiting had been to see the more recent civil registrations, which are not yet on the website. Nor are they on an internal website, we learned. The archivist gave us a USB key that contained the tables décennales (ten year indices) to civil registrations through 1935 and generously took the time to explain the structure of the tables and how to search them.

We spent the morning viewing the tables and listing all possible registrations that we would like to see. We returned the USB key and asked for the one holding images of the actual registers, so that we could view the registrations, but no, we were told.

"No?" Even now, we have not adjusted to the French civil servants' warrior code of "Never Explain; Never Justify". In this code, the person holding the cards of power makes every statement as if it were one of fact, not policy or opinion or anything else that can be disputed. Ask why at your peril; but we did.

"Why? The law states that birth and marriage registrations over seventy-five years old may be viewed by the public." We spoke as evenly as we could. In this sort of encounter, to show frustration is more than a sign of weakness, it is like giving the scent of blood to a hound, and the game is on. The game is an exchange of the foolish person's increasingly frustrated protests and pleadings being countered by the civil servant's shorter and blunter replies, usually resulting in a back being turned and a stroke being suffered. Our experience served us well and we avoided the trap; we smiled through our teeth and a helpful answer was received.

"They are still in the Mairie (City Hall)" we were told. "Before you took out the USB key, did you note all of the codes for each registration?" Imagine if we had not! We noted the passive-aggressive's disappointment that we had done and so did not have to go though all of our work again. He sighed. "You must have been to archives before," he said, his fun spoiled, but this brought efficiency. "Now, you go to the City Hall with your list and they will make copies for you."

Our notes in hand, token returned to the bottle cap box, we left and walked past the dinosaurs again, growing fonder of them on this second pass. 


Last dinosaur of Bordeaux


We took the tram to the Hôtel de Ville stop and entered that lovely building. 


Bordeaux Hotel de Ville

Inside, one takes a number. When it is called, one gives no code (so, we had written them for nothing and, had we not done so and had spent another hour or so finding them as the archivist instructed, it would have been for naught; see how the game works?). Only the date of the registration and the surname are required. The civil registrations clerk printed all that we requested with great speed and then asked "Any more?" By then, beaten and exhausted by the game, we gave our sweetest thanks and left, grateful to have achieved our research goals and to have survived the game one more time.

Should you be seeking twentieth century Bordeaux registrations, you now know that you must go to the Archives Bordeaux Métropole first thing in the morning in order to be able to go to the City Hall before closing time, looking at the indices in the former and getting copies of registrations from the latter. Wear comfortable shoes for this adventure and perhaps take something calming, like beta-blockers.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Privacy Restrictions on French Documents

Town Hall

We have covered this some time ago, but recently have noticed that misinformation on the subject abounds and so, here we go again.

The French, as well as most European nationals, value and protect their privacy. The right to privacy is considered more important than the public's right to know and it is considered more important than the freedom of the press, especially where children are concerned.

Thus, in France, certain documents that contain personal details are closed to public access for a particular period of time. Since 2008, the periods of restriction on access for types of documentation have been as follows:

  • Birth registration / acte de naissance - 75 years
  • Marriage registration / acte de mariage - 75 years
  • Death registration / acte de décès - no restriction
  • Ten-year indices to the above three /  tables décennales - no restriction
  • Census returns / recensements - 75 years
  • Notarial records / actes notariés - 75 years
  • Judicial records / archives judiciaires - 75 years
  • Personnel records / dossier de personnel - 50 years
  • Medical records / secret médical - 25 years after the death of the individual or 120 years after his or her birth

Generally, these limits are calculated from the end of the year and/or the closure of the register. However, sometimes it is possible to obtain a copy of a record for which the limitation date has passed before the end of that year, if one asks nicely.

It is very important to note that public access to the record does not mean that the information may be published. This was confirmed by a court ruling recently. In that case, reported by a Le Monde journalist, a historian had researched over six thousand families, gathering thousands of birth, marriage and death registrations and published a book about them. The people who were the subjects of some of these registrations were still alive. One of the birth registrations contained a marginal note that the child had been adopted. This person was among those still alive and sued the author for having revealed the adoption in his book, which the complainant claimed was a violation of his privacy. The court ruled in his favour.

Thus, though you may request a document once it is available, you may not publish the information in it without the permission of the person it concerns, should he or she be alive. Should you be in the process of writing your French family genealogy with an eye to publishing it, beware! 


©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Municipal Archives of Dieppe

Dieppe mediatheque

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.

AM Dieppe entry

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?

Dieppe archives

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

French Genealogy

The Municipal Archives of Lorient - Nice Little Film

AM Lorient

We have not visited the Municipal Archives of Lorient, but it is on our very long list of archives we long to see, not only for its holdings but as it is housed in  the old Compagnie des Indes building. (The archives concerning employees of that company are described by us here. The archives of the company and its administration are described here. Surprisingly the New York Public Library has seven volumes of the company's administration records of the company on Il de Bourbon, described here.)

In preparation for a visit, we discovered this very nice film on its website. It is in French, which some may not understand, but is well worth viewing to get an idea of what the inside of smaller French archives look like. Watch the film by clicking here. Should you happen to have ancestors from Lorient, the parish and civil registers of the city are online on the same website here.

Very nice!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Municipal Archives of Le Havre and the Sainte Marie Cemetery

AM Le Havre

Our Le Havre junket was extended to include a day of research at the Municipal Archives. They are housed in an old bastion, the Fort de Tourneville. Though the archives part of the building has been done up very nicely, the rest of the fort is still being repaired and restored, so there is a sense, on entering, of being in the wrong place, of being in a maze of scaffolding, of being at risk from plummeting construction materials or pots of paint.

Signage is not yet completed and, the day that we went anyway, it was no hive of activity but more of an eerie, empty, abandoned place where the sea wind howled. There was not a soul to give directions. We persevered in our wanderings and found the entry to an exhibition -- no one visiting and no one at the desk -- where there were some stairs, so we went up them. At the top, in light and warmth, were half a dozen cheerful archivists, glad to see us and ready to help. Apparently they found it quite a joke that we had managed to locate them, as if members of the public were not really meant to do so.

AM LH entry 

We filled out the usual forms and handed over our list of requests based on research we had done on the finding aids using the archives' website. The helpful young man at the desk asked "Is this everything? I don't want to have to make two trips." Wherever it was that he had to go, it took only five minutes, for he rolled in a trolley laden with our requested cartons. The person at the desk was relieved every fifteen minutes, and we never saw the same person twice; from this we infer that the facility was very well staffed. We also inferred some sort of festivity in the back room as people were increasingly jolly and affectionate with one another.


The finding aids are numerous and extremely detailed, making these archives very easy to use. Our focus was on the Naval and Port Archives and we were amazed and overjoyed to find certain categories to be more complete than those found in the Marine Archives of the Service Historique de la Défense. Excellent research day.

One of the archivists had told us that the Saint Marie Cemetery was just up the road and that it contained some graves from the mid-nineteenth century. So we went and discovered many graves and a memorial to British dead of World War One ships. In the chapel are provided maps showing the tombs of artists or naval heroes. Even on a sunny day, a cemetery is a sad place.

Ste Marie


Archives Municipales du Havre

Fort de Tourneville

55 rue du 329e

76620 Le Havre


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy