We have been junketting again, this time to Bordeaux and that city's excellent archival and library facilities. We revisited the Departmental Archives of the Gironde. We then carried on our research in the municipal archives of Bordeaux, called the Archives Bordeaux Métropole, for their collections cover the entire metropolitan area of Bordeaux.
In truth, we recommend that researchers use the website of these archives, for getting there is rather unpleasant. The tram stop, Jardin Botanique, is quite a trek away, down dirty roads with broken paving stones, past gaping car parks and grim bungalows of a bygone era. Around a wide curve one comes to a long, weedy road parallel to and fenced off from a railway hub; this is the last stretch. In case one were not already sunk into a gloomy view of our dystopian inner cities, the wall that lines this stretch, topped with barbed wire, has been painted with a long mural that seems to depict the last moment of the dinosaurs on this planet. Dinosaur Armageddon being a parallel, of course, for the warning that this little enclave of Hell gives.
After the last dead dinosaur, we came to the archives, not at all cheered by the prison architecture the good city fathers selected (see the top photo). One enters to find a row of lockers blocking the view of a rather nice display.
We went through the usual routine of registering, a process that is free but is required of all users. One must show some sort of identification, such as a passport or identity card, fill out a form and then receive a user's card. When we completed this, the receptionist then put in front of us a small box of bottle caps.
"Choose one," she said, briskly. We stared, perhaps stupidly, certainly confused. She shook the box, rattling the bottle caps. "For the locker," she added, impatiently. We really were quite lost as to how a bottle cap could possibly operate a locker. She sighed with impatience and rattled the box again until a few small, plastic tokens rose to the surface. A Wittgensteinian "Aha moment" came to us. It would appear that the receptionist's love of soda and of carefully saving the bottle caps had overshadowed her responsibility to maintain a few tokens for archives users. As the very concept of customer service is anathema to French civil servants, this indifference to users comes as no surprise. We fished out a token from the bottle cap collection and went to a locker to deposit all that is not permitted in the reading room. The receptionist smiled her approval.
The prison theme continued in the reading room, but there, the staff were friendly, intelligent and helpful. Our reason for visiting had been to see the more recent civil registrations, which are not yet on the website. Nor are they on an internal website, we learned. The archivist gave us a USB key that contained the tables décennales (ten year indices) to civil registrations through 1935 and generously took the time to explain the structure of the tables and how to search them.
We spent the morning viewing the tables and listing all possible registrations that we would like to see. We returned the USB key and asked for the one holding images of the actual registers, so that we could view the registrations, but no, we were told.
"No?" Even now, we have not adjusted to the French civil servants' warrior code of "Never Explain; Never Justify". In this code, the person holding the cards of power makes every statement as if it were one of fact, not policy or opinion or anything else that can be disputed. Ask why at your peril; but we did.
"Why? The law states that birth and marriage registrations over seventy-five years old may be viewed by the public." We spoke as evenly as we could. In this sort of encounter, to show frustration is more than a sign of weakness, it is like giving the scent of blood to a hound, and the game is on. The game is an exchange of the foolish person's increasingly frustrated protests and pleadings being countered by the civil servant's shorter and blunter replies, usually resulting in a back being turned and a stroke being suffered. Our experience served us well and we avoided the trap; we smiled through our teeth and a helpful answer was received.
"They are still in the Mairie (City Hall)" we were told. "Before you took out the USB key, did you note all of the codes for each registration?" Imagine if we had not! We noted the passive-aggressive's disappointment that we had done and so did not have to go though all of our work again. He sighed. "You must have been to archives before," he said, his fun spoiled, but this brought efficiency. "Now, you go to the City Hall with your list and they will make copies for you."
Our notes in hand, token returned to the bottle cap box, we left and walked past the dinosaurs again, growing fonder of them on this second pass.
We took the tram to the Hôtel de Ville stop and entered that lovely building.
Inside, one takes a number. When it is called, one gives no code (so, we had written them for nothing and, had we not done so and had spent another hour or so finding them as the archivist instructed, it would have been for naught; see how the game works?). Only the date of the registration and the surname are required. The civil registrations clerk printed all that we requested with great speed and then asked "Any more?" By then, beaten and exhausted by the game, we gave our sweetest thanks and left, grateful to have achieved our research goals and to have survived the game one more time.
Should you be seeking twentieth century Bordeaux registrations, you now know that you must go to the Archives Bordeaux Métropole first thing in the morning in order to be able to go to the City Hall before closing time, looking at the indices in the former and getting copies of registrations from the latter. Wear comfortable shoes for this adventure and perhaps take something calming, like beta-blockers.
©2018 Anne Morddel