Why, we ask ourself, did we wait so long to go to Rennes and the Departmental Archives of Ille-et-Vilaine? By train, it is an hour and a half from Paris and the archives are fifteen minutes from the station by the Mètro and bus. We finally did go and, considering that this is yet another Departmental Archives that lost so much thanks to the Allied Bombing, it was really rather successful.
The building is modern, designed by that unknown group of architects who have left their unpleasant stains on so many of France’s archives, including Pierrefitte. We suspect kickbacks occur somewhere in this history, as there can be no other explanation for a design that shows such a clear disdain for the people who use archives: massive doors too heavy to open, lockers in rolling cases that mean only one bank may be accessed at a time (causing a queue when there are only four or five people), black walls creating the gloomiest of atmospheres, poorly marked glass barriers inviting the unwary visitors to brain themselves and, lastly, a floor covering on which every type of shoe squeaks loudly with every step, repeatedly shattering concentration. We honestly feel that the bureaucrat who awards the contracts for such designed should have every aspect of his or her finances subjected to a thorough tax audit.
Procedures are the same as in all Departmental Archives. We enrolled as a reader, at no charge, and received a reader’s card (with our name misspelt) a key for one of those rolling lockers, and we were assigned a seat in the Reading Room. We had done our homework and studied the finding aids online and so, entered the Reading Room armed with a list of codes of cartons to request.
Staff, as we have grown to expect in all Departmental Archives, were extremely helpful. We found it touching that some wore white lab coats by way of a professional identification. Behind that threatening glass wall, we were introduced to the internal system for requesting items and had its many quirks explained, and away we went. Only three items may be in use and/or on request at a time, so once the first three are requested, one used and returned, it becomes a race against the clock to keep requesting a new item the minute one is returned. As no requests are taken for an hour and a half at lunch time, much calculating goes into this process in order to have no time wasted in that dreadful archives doldrum of having to wait for the next carton while having nothing to examine at hand.
Some of the notarial records have not been classified and the archivist went to great lengths for us to find the codes. Afterward, she kept checking back with us to see how our research was going and if we needed any more help. (Really, archivists in France are so very solicitous. Why can this skill not be taught to other professions in France, to Parisian waiters or clothing shop salespeople, for instance?) The Reading Room is quite large, with the Help Desk, where the archivists answer questions and provide guidance, at the opposite end of the room from the long desk where items are delivered and returned. Much galloping back and forth, squeaking loudly, recall, is undertaken by each and all.
Our particular hunt was for a Frenchman who had been a sailor on a privateer out of Saint Malo during the First Empire. It took most of the day but we found him on a crew pay list that not only survived the bombing but is a beautiful document.
Should any of you with Malouin ancestors be planning a trip to Paris, do remember that you can go to this archive and research your ancestors on a day trip. Very nice excursion. This is also the only Departmental Archies to give a little gift bag with a pencil, notebook and brochure.
©2019 Anne Morddel