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A Force for the Archives

Archives publiques libres


We have written a few times about the battle raging in France between the major online genealogy data base companies and users of the French archives. To recap: by law, the contents of French archives belong to the French people, who may access them at no cost. Research can be arduous for genealogists, for the most coveted documents, the civil and parish registrations, are held in geographical order, then chronological order. Indexing by name has been done by volunteer enthusiasts, generally members of genealogy associations or circles.

A while back, a big company wrote to the many archives around the country a letter saying they would like to scan many documents and make them available -- for a fee -- on their website. Those of the view that this constitutes a theft of public property  are countered by those of the "you snooze, you lose" school of the free enterprise camp. The one side asserts that access to the archives at no cost is mandated by law and the public, having paid taxes for the care and maintenance of archives, should not again be charged. They find it immoral that the indexing that was done by volunteers out of goodwill would then become a product to be bought and sold. The other side says the fee would not be for access to the archives or even the indexing, but to the centralised database that would allow online searching across all dates and geographical locations. Thus, people would be paying for their software online, not its contents.

The most organised campaign for keeping the archives free in every sense is that called Archives Publiques Libres!!!!, and they have put together a very clear website indeed. Their slogan (above) reads: "My genealogy is not merchandise!" We find the logo to have rather misleadingly a look of something to do with ecology, but never mind.  The site has well-written and clear pages that explain the point of view and are entitled:

  • The public good
  • The menace
  • Ways to take action
  • Free genealogy
  • Partners
  • Campaigns
  • Politicians in support of the campaign
  • Government reports and plans for archives
  • Departmental reports and plans for archives
  • Suggestions
  • Press clippings
  • a blog
  • Links
  • Calendar
  • Visitors' Book

The ubiquitous facebook link is there as well, and there is a Yahoo Group for the organisation. Under "Contacts" can be found the biographies of the founders: Christine Iribarne-Messardier, Claude Baril and Jean Louis Darrière, all highly experienced and without doubt committed to the cause. Certainly, for all those interested in just how the battle will be fought, this is a website to watch. 

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy