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January 2011

Commercial Genealogy vs. Privacy - The French Perspective

U - Irish Embassy  mural


Different cultures have different ideas of privacy, and that applies to privacy, genealogy and the Internet, and to the area where all three intersect. In America, no one in genealogical circles seems at all concerned that heritage societies sell online the complete lineage of each member, including living individuals, even if the member protests, while in France there remains a concern, however token, about protecting the privacy of living individuals. How the latest developments will play out in practice is another story.

Currently, the news in French genealogy is the result of a meeting held on the 9th of December last at the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL) the motto of which reads in English as : "Information technology must respect human identity, human rights, privacy and freedom". The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the policy and directives on the publication, commercial or private, of images and information from the national and departmental archives, particularly for genealogy. This is an ongoing tussle which we discussed here last June and July.

The blog of the Fédération française de Généalogie (FFG) gives a summary of the decision and also gripes that the only representatives present were :

  • the president of the company Notre Famille, the owners of the website, which has been angling for some time to be allowed to index and show all the filmed records on their website.
  • one for the Archives nationales de France
  • one for the Departmental Archives
  • one for the General Assembly of Departments of France

There were no representatives for professional genealogists or for private users or family genealogists. Thus, there is a building resentment about the seeming collaboration between government and commerce to keep the citizen/punter out of the decision-making process, which does seem do be a bit forgetful of the "human" in the motto above.

Key points are:

  • It is permitted to use (the term is réutilisation and the implication is to publish on the internet) the images and personal data contained in the public archives for both private and commercial purposes;
  • The express permission of the person named in the data is not required for that use;
  • CNIL has the authority to allow or prohibit specific uses of the data and images;
  • The publication of certain information about people, whether living or dead, is forbidden. That information includes: racial or ethnic origins, political opinions, philosophies or religions, memberships to groups or associations, health, sexuality, crimes, convictions, imprisonments AND marginal notes on the civil registrations. As the FranceGenWeb blog points out, this makes it awkward for those researching Protestant and Jewish ancestors.
  • To use any document that reveals such information, the publisher must remove or block the name of the individual concerned.
  • The publisher, private or commercial,  must provide general (not individual) explanation of how they plan to use the data and images.
  • All living persons have the right to request the removal and blocking of information relating to them. The user has the right to ask for reasons for  a request to remove or block information concerning a dead person.
  • As concerns indexing of the data (the big money-maker in this game) the user or publisher must ensure that their search engine will exclude from the results all people born within the past 120 years. FranceGenWeb points out that this would make it no longer possible to search the records of those who served during World War I .
  • The user or publisher must inform all those who might access the data and images that he or she may not republish them and must protect their confidentiality.
  • Specific authorisation is required 1) to transfer the data out of the European Union to a country that does not adequately protect privacy, freedom and fundamental rights, or 2) to connect documents containing data produced by different government sections (e.g data from a Ministry for Health combined with data from that for Justice).

Many, especially Guillaume at FranceGenWeb, think this is a mess. La Revue française de généalogie, in an interview of Hervé Lemoine, director of the Service Interministériel des Archives de France (SIAF) by Guillaume de Morant emphasises the contradiction between the interpretations of the issues by CNIL and those by CADA, both organisations having authority of enforcement. Everyone wonders how the two rights: the right to access to information and the right to privacy, will be reconciled with any logical practical application. The Association of French Archivists with SIAF has organised a working group "Use of Public Data" and encourage involvement and public debate. They plan a conference day on the 11th of March, 2011. The European directive (last updated in 2003) on the subject is in the process of revision. When that is finalised, all member countries will have to revise their own policies to bring them into line with it.

Yet, the glory of the internet is that it crosses borders with fluidity. How will any plan be enforced internationally? Will genealogy multinationals experience in France episodes like Google's in China? We anticipate  fireworks at some point.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Local Archives Online - Update

13 - Avignon small

We have written before about the municipal and communal archives. They are going online at such a snapping pace that including them in a list of links would, we believe, require its own website and a full time employee dedicated to that subject alone. We considered it but, as Typepad is having trouble learning the alphabet, we decided against it. 

By far, the best way to find if a particular city or village has their archives online is to simply google the town's name and archives communales or archives municipales. Additionally, the website of Archives de France maintains a list, though they are far behind. Généinfos, the blog of the magazine La Revue française de Généalogie, maintains a map that is quite up to date. 

Now, however, quality varies enormously.

  • There are the truly gorgeous sites, as for Lyon, Avignon and, of all places, Brive-la-Gaillarde. These are the one the Archives de France will list, not touching those below.
  • There is an outfit called Archives Multimedia that is toodling around the country filming communal archives and setting up a website for each that is minimalist in the extreme, but still works.
  • There is the effort by one Christian Perrier to get everyone who has home snapshots of parish and civil registers to upload them.

Given the fact that quite a few Departmental Archives (links to all are in the panel to the left on this page) still do not have parish and civil registrations online, it is worth while to keep checking to see if the commune you seek may not have put their own records up independently.

Never give up!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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Passe-port is a French word, literally a pass to be used at a port. The Glorious Eleventh Edition's article on the subject opens archly with a discussion of  the passport, "or safe-conduct, in time of war, a document granted by a belligerent power to protect persons and property from the operation of hostilities." After a long discussion of safe-conduct for ships, the  author adds as a mere afterthought: "In its more familiar sense, a passport is a document authorizing a person to pass out of or into a country..."

Originally, beginning in the reign of Louis XIV, these were not little books as we know them now, but a single certificate for a limited period of time. Very few have survived being opened, shown, stamped, folded and put away again repeatedly. The more modern passport  in France began with the Décret du 10 vendémiaire An IV (the decree issued on the 2nd of October, 1795, in the Gregorian Calendar), with numerous updates in subsequent years. This changed the passport from being a safe-conduct that one requested to facilitate one's voyage to being a requirement enabling authorities to record one's movements.

The decree required not only passports for travel out of the country, but internal passports, passeports à l'intérieur, for travel outside of one's canton. (One type of passport existed prior to this, from 1724, was the requirement of vagabonds to have their own passport, a sort of homelessness permit.) Happily, the introduction of railway travel made the internal passport system impossible to maintain and it was abolished in 1862. Not so happily, it was to be replaced later by a document whose function is truer to the original intention: the identity card.

The internal and foreign travel passports were issued by different authorities in different places.

  • In Paris, the prefect issued both types of passports
  • In the departments, both types of passports were issued in administrative centres (chef-lieux) with a population of more than 40,000
  • In all smaller towns, the mayor issued internal passports, but for a foreign travel passport, an applicant had to go to the chef-lieu of his or her region

Physically, the French passport of the 19th century was a sheet of paper that separated into two parts along a curved line. One part was kept by the voyager and constituted the passport. The other part is in the national archives, in 656 cartons.

For genealogical research, those passport forms are not as useful in France as are perhaps the passport applications in North America. There are many gaps, primarily because a large percentage of them were thrown out in the 1890s by a gang of gleeful archivists. (It is rare, but it happens.) Most of the registers and indices were lost long ago. Those that remain refer in some cases to records that no longer exist. Over the years, some printed indices and lists of names have been created and are in book form. All of the passport forms are on microfilm. 

 Where to find passport records:

  • In the Archives nationales CARAN, in the sub-series F7 are the forms described above (within that sub-series, no. 12 233 has some relating to Alsace and Lorraine. ) Not online. An internal system does allow a name search for the years 1793-1818.
  • In the Archives départementales de la Gironde  are the administrative records of the Admiralty of Guyenne, with passport records for those leaving Bordeaux, some with documents of proof of identity, 1670-1787. 
  • In the Departmental Archives of the other coastal departments (check this map) the Admiralty records (Fonds des amirautés, Ancien Régime) in series B, will have some passenger lists and permissions to travel. 
  • In all Departmental Archives (see the list of links in the panel to the left) 19th century passport and visa applications are in one of two sub-series: M (general administration and police) or Z (sub-prefectures). Check the department's website to see if their passport records are online. Series P may have some passenger lists for merchant ships.
  • In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archives are some foreign travel passport records, for 1667 and for 1712 to 1731. Not online.
  • Not exactly passports, but there are also the authorisations de garder du service à l'étranger in the Archives nationales in series BB11. These were permissions for a person to work in another country without losing French nationality and range from 1789 to 1930.
  • The published volumes of La Police Secrète du Premier Empire have, in almost every Bulletin, the names of those given passports to leave the country, and from which port.
  • Géné (now has a small list of passport and related documentation in their databases.

The information found may be well worth the hunt, for it will include:

  • name in full
  • date of birth
  • place of birth
  • age
  • profession
  • residence
  • possibly spouse and any children under the age of fifteen may be on the same passport

All in all, not the best resource.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Spies for Genealogy - La Police Secrète du Premier Empire

Duc de Rovigo

If your ancestor was in France as either a native or a foreigner during the First Empire (1804-1814) and did anything at all by way of travel, trade, crime or suicide, there is a good chance he or she was written up by the spies of the time. The French Empire of that time included Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, and various German and Polish Duchies. Napoleon ruled it all and wanted to know all that was happening all the time in all of his empire. 

The two Ministers of Police -- firstly Joseph Fouché, the Duke of Otranto and a wily dog; secondly General Savary, the Duke of Rovigo (the dashing fellow above) -- therefore sent him daily reports on all happenings of import (and not much) in the empire. The network of spies was enormous, and they reported back to police headquarters with whatever they thought might be of interest or use. They come across as obsessive and silly at times, but they have left a marvelous record: who received a passport, who left France, who was arrested, what little crimes were committed, political gossip, the evacuation of a church, the death of an English agent, the theft of a gun.


Bulletin title

The bulletins are in the National Archives in hundreds of cartons. They are also all available online in two series of books entitled "La Police Secrète du Premier Empire". The first set, edited by Ernest d'Hauterive, is of five volumes, covers the Fouché years of 1804 to 1810. The second set, edited by the National Archives' expert on the First Empire, Nicole Gotteri, is of seven volumes and covers the Savary years from the second half of 1810 to March, 1814. Both sets have good indices, including names, but one must check each volume's index separately. 

Most of the first set is online, in various locations, with the Internet Archive having all five volumes. Most of the second set is on Google Books, with a snippet view, which is often enough. Many libraries have both sets. A good resource and a fun read.

Picture 7

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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