The Departmental Archives of Haute-Savoie - A Guest Post
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"Les Mormons" Take the Field

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The battle over an index to French parish and civil registrations has been raging for a while, and we have reported the occasional skirmish here on The FGB. To recapitulate a few essential points:

  • Privacy protection trumps freedom of speech in French law
  • French archives' holdings are considered to be the heritage of the nation and to belong to all of the people, all of whom have a right to see and use all of the archives free of charge. To facilitate this, most Departmental Archives have websites on which many records may be seen at no cost.
  • Modern times brought the CNIL , which was established to ensure that information technology and its applications "respect human identity, human rights, privacy and freedom", but they have struggled with the pressure of demands from those wishing to do genealogical research online.
  • French commercial genealogy companies have met with enormous resistance from the Departmental Archives as they have tried to make deals to present the same parish and civil registration images on their websites, indexed, and for a fee.
  • In 2013, we reported here that CNIL had granted not a French commercial genealogy company but "les Mormons" in the United States -- who were the people who made the original microfilms of the disputed records in the first place -- to put the images online with an index; though they could do so only with many restrictions designed to protect privacy. Those opposed claimed that French heritage was being sent out of the country, attempting to lock the barn door some fifty years after the horse has gone, as copies of the microfilmed records have been in Utah since the 1960s.
  • On requests from "les Mormons" for a clearer ruling, CNIL altered their previous decision slightly, granting that FamilySearch could take the information to the United States and that the indexing could be done automatically (the previous requirement was that humans do the work). Much personal information must still be masked and FamilySearch must have an agreement or license from each and every department.

When this will finally be up and running, it should transform online French genealogical research, assuming the indexing be decent. And why FamilySearch and not NotreFamille or Geneanet? We cannot say, but we believe it may have to do with FamilySearch being free to use, which accords with the French commitment to ensuring that the people have free access to their patrimoine. 

One can make a very interesting comparison between the two countries in question and their access to public records and who solves whose problems in what way.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy