The Centennial of the Great War
20 September 2013
The centennial of the beginning of la Grande Guerre, that cliff over which Western civilization threw itself, is nearly upon us and France is preparing to note it in a big way. Nearly every Departmental Archive is planning some sort of event or exhibition. Many are also (rather late in the day, it seems to us) actively seeking personal archives, mementos and oral histories handed down by those who lived through those catastrophic years.
- The Departmental Archives of Haute-Saône have put out a call to all those living in the department to search their attics for such things and to donate them to the archives.
- The Director of the Departmental Archives of Ariège has been working for months, trawling their collections for World War One material and just recently received a large donation of correspondence. These archives also are asking for more donations of similar material.
- The Departmental Archives of Aisne have created an online exhibit of documents relating to the war in Laon, including lists of people taken as hostages in December, 1917.
- The Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime is preparing a photograph exhibit that will also include documents, as are the Departmental Archives of Nièvre, Ardèche, Saône-et-Loire, Vendée, Cher, Indre, Morbihan, Corrèze, Bouches-du-Rhone, Meurthe-et-Moselle, la Manche, la Marne, Vosges, Nord, the Territoire-de-Belfort, Aude, Lot-et-Garonne - and probably all of the others.
The Mission du Centennaire was established in 2012 (again, a bit late for that sort of thing) to coordinate events and their site lists all that is planned around the country and is updated regularly. This Mission was planning to create the one thing concerning the First World War that all French genealogists want: a central website allowing a search of all the military conscription lists, from all of the Departmental Archives. These lists and the accompanying individual military service records (as we explain in our book) give quite a lot of information, both genealogical and descriptive and are an invaluable resource. Disappointingly, as Guillaume de Morant reports, that will not quite be. Privacy, financial and practical obstacles have proved insurmountable and, though a website will be created, it will give only links to each Departmental Archives' collection of registres matricules.
Next year looks set to be one in which many new materials of genealogical interest will be available, including photographs, military records, personal accounts, any one of which could contain a picture of or mention your ancestor. It will be a year of cultural commemorations of a horrific war, saying "Never again". As genealogists who are digging up the dead to show to our children, so to speak, we must be sure to include the same message.
©2013 Anne Morddel