A Quick Note - The French in London
Notarial Records - A Very Simple Marriage Contract

Privacy, Archives and Empty Attics

Vide Grenier

It was inevitable that the exponential growth in the popularity of genealogy would clash with concerns for the protection of privacy. As more and more people dig around in archives and online resources for finding dead and living relatives, there will be more and more people complaining that they do not appreciate having so much about them and their living relatives exposed to such research.

In the United States, the current battle in this war is over the Social Security Death Index. It is much used by genealogists, while others fear that it is also much used by identity thieves. There are those in Congress who want it and other indices to be no longer available to the public. The clash is also visible in the way some online genealogy services deal with privacy concerns. Ancestry.com and Rootsweb, for instance, are quite sympathetic to individuals' complaints about privacy violations and will remove offending materials. The DAR and the man who runs it, Stephen Nordholt, on the other hand, sink to the level of the shabbiest online information brokers, putting online and selling copies of every membership application and refusing to remove any, including those about living individuals, no matter how urgent and serious the request.

In France, the government body, CNIL, has been addressing the privacy concerns involving the internet generally, and public archives about individuals specifically. Their recent explanation of their decision on internet availability of images of documents held in public archives has been seen as quite restrictive and professional genealogists, especially those who hunt heirs, are very, very upset.

Essentially, CNIL have imposed a ban on most personal information being put on the net  -- or made public in any other way -- before it is 120 years old. This affects all of the various archives that contain and have websites with images of actes d'état civil. Exceptions have been made for death registrations, which may be put online much earlier (and this has enabled the Service Historique de la Défense to continue its Mémoire des Hommes website). The blog of Guillaume de Morant has an excellent little chart showing the waiting period for each type of document. This regulation means that the websites of the individual archives no longer bear the responsibility of trying to police illegal publication of their images. (Though most still will do so as they object to publication of any their images without their having given written permission first, which is why so few are seen on this blog.)

The CNIL announcement goes on to address the question of indexing the data that is in the documents. Here, it is much more restrictive. Essentially, it will not be possible to index any recent civil registrations. Death registrations must be at least seventy-five years old before they can be indexed; marriage registrations must be one hundred years old; birth registrations must be 120 years old. (This may be another reason for Ancestry.com's departure from France.)

While we applaud the efforts to protect privacy, we have found it frustrating to be unable to give any examples of some of the documents we have described. We are a firm believer in the educational usefulness of being able to see what is discussed.

Les Vide-Greniers Come Into Play

A vide-grenier is the same as a garage sale, a yard sale, a car boot sale, etc. Literally, the term means "empty attic". The month of May in France has many holidays and (usually) lots of sunshine, perfect for vide-greniers, of which every little village seems to have one. We have whiled away quite a few of the past weekends toodling to vide greniers. We have not been looking just for old garden furniture. Oh, no, we have been working for you, Dear Readers.

We have found that vide-greniers include not only the likes of such things as seen in the photo above; they include family photo albums, post cards, and documents, which we have bought and will continue to buy. We are accumulating a small trove of different types of documents that we will be able to exhibit legally here on the blog for you, with explanation. 

We begin with our very next post!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy