It used to be that, to research a person who sailed for North America or the French colonies from Le Havre, we had to go to the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime in Rouen to look at the microfilmed passenger lists. Now, they are online and may be searched freely. Before you dash to the website, it is important to know that this collection is not simply of departing passenger lists for all vessels leaving Le Havre.
What this collection represents are the surviving shipping documentation for FRENCH vessels registered at Le Havre and that returned to Le Havre at the end of the voyage, that is held by the Departmental Archives.* Much documentation has not survived. Much documentation is held at other archives. Many of the vessels are merely fishing boats, many vessels sailing to other French ports. Be warned that this is not a neat counterpart to the passenger arrivals lists for New York that can be found on Ancestry.com.
The proper title of the entire collection is Inscription Maritime. For Le Havre, the categories are:
- Armement et desarmement des batiments de commerce - These are the documents of French-registered, merchant vessels filed with the ports on their return to Le Havre. Many have both crew lists and passenger lists. Within this category are many choices, including Répertoires d’armement et de désarmement des bâtiments de commerce - these are essentially finding aids, the lists that give the numbers, dates and names of ships necessary to find them in the relevant documents above.
- Matricules des bâtiments de commerce - 1741-1929 - Filed on the vessel's return to port, this gives the same information as the rôle, but will show any changes or alterations that may have occurred during the voyage.
- Matricules des bâtiments de commerce - 1850-1906. As above, but for pleasure craft.
- Matricules des gens de mer - 1751-1950 - These are highly detailed crew lists, often with copies of birth registrations. There are alphabetic indices at the end of each volume.
- Rôles des bâtiments de commerce - 1751-1816 - These are the papers required of each merchant vessel, listing stores, cargo, crew and passengers.
Take the time to become familiar with these lists. There are constantly new additions. Some of the best lists of passengers leaving France are in the documents handed over by the captain when the ship returned to Le Havre.
As we explained in one of our lectures, the Departmental Archives websites are not genealogy websites. They are designed as links to the archival history of the department, which includes a great deal more than family history. You cannot simply type a name into a search box and expect to find an ancestor. Departmental Archives have a structure and a classification system, cadre de classement in French. Within the system, each section is described in detail in finding aids, instruments recherches in French. To get the most out of any archives website, you must locate and read the finding aids. That is particularly so when the original records are a bit chaotic, as shipping records almost always are.
For the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime:
Enjoy the hunt!
UPDATE AND EVEN MORE TO CELEBRATE! In late 2019 a website, Le désarmement Havrais, opened and it presents a completely indexed database to the passenger lists. One can search by the name of a member of the crew, of his parents, of a passenger, of a vessel, of the owners, and more. The reference to the information gives the film number and frame on which to view the original. This is a joy!
*No matter how clearly we try to make the point, we still receive dozens of comments and messages from readers who do not seem to be reading this post with attention, or perhaps do not understand what vessel registration is. A vessel flies the flag of a country and that country is where its ownership is registered. It may sail from any port but it is registered at only one port. American, British, Dutch vessels, or vessels of any other nationality, were NOT French, could not have been registered with the port of Le Havre, probably did not return to the port of Le Havre at the end of the voyage and so, their passenger lists will NOT be included in these archives.
©2016, Update ©2019 Anne Morddel