Nowadays, the Ile de Ré is known as a holiday playground for France's la-di-da folks. When it was rumoured that the actor who played Captain Jack Sparrow took his tots there, our own begged that we might spend our holidays there as well. The answer was no. We did not get to the famed isle -- once nothing more than salt flats -- until said Captain had upped stakes and returned his homeland and our own little ones were little no more. Off-season, it is a sad place, overbuilt with summer bungalows and camp-sites, but the tiny harbour of Saint Martin is quite pretty. However, we went there not as a tourist, but in a continuation of our Charente-Maritime archives junket and, frankly, after a previous experience, expected no good thing.
How nice to have such expectations disappointed! We went to the local, quite tiny, museum, Le Musée Ernest Cognacq. It had a display space with an exhibition about salt (what else?) and, to the rear, the communal archives of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. There, we found order! There, we found courteous and intelligent guidance! There, we found a simple, sane, clear and most of all, working, classification system! We were welcomed into the small but efficiently arranged space by the archivist.
We had telephoned ahead to book this meeting and to explain our field of interest. She had already pulled the most likely boxes of papers for us and, after we had gone through these, many of which were very much what we sought, she encouraged us to go through the list of all of the archives held by the museum and to request anything else we might wish to see. Perfection! Our only regret was that, the archives being so useful, we did not have enough time for a complete and thorough study of the salt exhibition.
These archives contain more, in some ways, about other communities on the island than about Saint Martin. This is because the town hall of Saint-Martin-de-Ré burned to the ground in 1891, the archives along with it. What was saved was what had been copied out beforehand by three men: the doctors Kemmerer and Atgier, and Monsieur Phelippot, passionate historians all. Their copies of some but not all of the parish and civil registrations of Saint Martin have made them belovèd of genealogists and local historians researching the Ile de Ré. In addition, the archives contain papers on:
- The history of Ile de Ré
- Various towns and villages of the island
- The island's military history
- The Dechézeau family
- Many families of the island, arranged alphabetically
There is room for just two researchers at a time, so be sure to book in advance. The archivist herself is quite a font of local knowledge and happy to answer questions.
Musée Ernest Cognacq de Saint-Martin-de-Ré
Hôtel de Clerjotte
tel: (+33) 5 46 09 21 22
©2013 Anne Morddel