The Departmental Archives of Pas-de-Calais
Louisiana Ancestors in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal

Genealogy at the Arsenal library - la Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal

Arsenal entry 1 small

In spite of the burning of the Hotêl de Ville and its eight million records on the inhabitants of Paris, some Parisian genealogical information has survived. Scattered among the library collections of manuscripts throughout Paris are parish registers and other documents covering the years from 1500 to 1791. The Arsenal library has records dating back to 1300.

Now part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the library's collection is massive and fabulous: medieval illuminated manuscripts, literature, theatre, prints, and archives. These are currently accessed in one of those dreamy reading rooms designed in the days when scholars were to be encouraged rather than processed. To spend a winter's day of research in this room is one of the great pleasures of French genealogy.

Arsenal interior smaller 


There are two collections at l'Arsenal of importance for the genealogist:


  • The archives of the Célestins. These are the papers for the years 1300 to 1636 on the religious order which was granted permission by Charles V of France to build a convent just outside the old walls of Paris.  A hundred years later, they had taken over the street that still bears the name of their order: le Quai des Célestins, with some very grand houses indeed. They also owned other properties and fields which they rented out.* Their wealth grew, they were befriended by kings, and then all their property was destroyed in the Revolution. A celibate order, many of its members should have had no descendants, but there were those who joined later in life, after having had children.


  • The archives of the Bastille. These are the files on the management of the prison and on every one of its prisoners. When the Bastille was stormed, the archives were hardly considered worth preserving. Armloads of papers were dumped into the moat during the general mêlée of destruction. Presumably, that became boring to the rioters, for thousands of files survived. They reside at l'Arsenal, not very far from their original home. Some of them were organised and reproduced in the multi-volume work, Archives de la Bastille, document inédits, recueillis par François Ravaisson-Mollien et publié par Louis Ravaisson-Mollien, Règne Louis XV (1757 à 1767), which can be seen on both Gallica and the Internet Archive. Much more than is in this volume is available in the library and more on that in the next post. All sorts of people ended up in the bastille as prisoners -- Huguenots, debtors, true criminals -- and the prisoner files that have survived can be of  excellent genealogical value.

Access to the library is a bit complicated, involving forms, interviews and cash. There are two types of cards: a day card and an annual card. With good preparation in advance, using the online catalogue, and booking documents in advance, a visit can be efficiently achieved.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

* Guerber, Estelle. Le quartier del'hôtel de Saint-Paul à Paris (1360-1550) : Etude topographique, économique et sociale. Thèse soutenue en 2001. Thèses de l'école des chartes. 23 June, 2010.