The Municipal Archives of Lorient
Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 1

The Municipal Archives of Vannes - a Plethora for the Holidays

Archives municipales de Vannes

 

 

AM Vannes 1

 

AM Vannes 2

 

AM Vannes 3

 

Some mad fool once dared to imply that a holiday that included archives visits was no holiday at all but we differ, boldly and without begging, indeed. If holidays are meant to contain innocent pleasures and perhaps the discovery of new places, then this gallivant through the archives of southern Brittany has certainly qualified for us. The last on the gallivant list has turned out to be the best, like a nice little flourish at the end of a perfect page of calligraphy.

We arrived at the spanking new and spotless Municipal Archives of Vannes on a cold and wet November morning. At the desk, we made our application for a Reader's Card, filling out a form that was longer than usual, and receiving a charming little welcome pack of paper, pencil and a list of rules.

We began with our usual request for Revolutionary era passports. Before we had fully settled into our seat at a table, the archivist wheeled in a trolly laden with cartons. "We thought you might be interested in later passports too," she offered, showing us a carton of passports from 1806 to 1816, almost all of the First Empire period. We were thrilled to our toes. Not only were we very interested in such a rare find of later passports, never, ever had an archivist actually gone so far ass to volunteer a suggestion. This really was service on a higher level of consciousness, we decided.

Vannes passeports

Bear with us, Dear Readers, as we elaborate on the window into a society that such internal passports can be. Recall that they were merely permission to make a specific journey into or out of the town. Many showed the same people passing through again and again, while other people seem to have passed through Vannes just once. Not only are these helpful in genealogical research on an ancestor, but in historical research into the society in which the ancestor lived. Here follows a list of the professions and work of the people requesting passports:

  • bookseller
  • wooden shoe maker
  • pharmacist
  • potter
  • tinker
  • handkerchief maker
  • surveyor
  • antiques dealer
  • saddler
  • brewer
  • contortionist
  • wine seller
  • sail maker
  • clock maker
  • composer
  • drawing master
  • basket maker
  • priest
  • barometer seller
  • musician
  • nail maker
  • day labourer
  • tailor
  • seamstress
  • roofer
  • hat maker
  • domestic servant
  • chandler
  • laundress
  • prisoner just released
  • mason
  • stone cutter
  • merchant
  • spinner
  • tobacco worker
  • acrobat
  • magician
  • portraitist
  • baker
  • pastry maker
  • wood turner
  • post rider (many of these on their return journeys)
  • cobbler
  • wig maker
  • student
  • locksmith
  • glass maker
  • embroiderer
  • lawyer
  • apprentice
  • soldier
  • sailor
  • artist
  • carpenter
  • paver
  • gardener
  • dentist
  • prostitute (fille publique)
  • iron worker
  • draper
  • weaver
  • organ grinder
  • chimney sweep
  • farrier
  • actor
  • surgeon
  • cook
  • plasterer
  • singer
  • cooper

 

Most came from the region, and many from other parts of France; some from as far away as Italy, Brussels, Poland, Hamburg, Prussia, Switzerland, and Spain. Some were refugees. Most of the forms were complete, giving at least a partial physical description. Here is the entry for a sixteen-year old Armand Bescourt, travelling salesman of eau de Cologne:

Armand Bescourt

And here, a full page of entries:

Full passports pagePolice générale-Passeports, 1806-1816. 2J 140. Archives Municipales de Vannes

We were keenly interested in the suggested cartons, one of which held a very rare 1792 register book of volunteers from Vannes for the Revolutionary Army.

1792 Volunteers RegisterAffaire militaires-Enrôlements volontaires. 1H 72.  Archives Municipales de Vannes

The last offering was just as interesting, for it contained something equally rare: a printed leaflet from 1817 containing the names, ages and descriptions of wanted criminals.

Wanted criminalsPolice-Surveillance condamnés, forçats liberés, An 9 - 1855. 2I 147. Archives Municipales de Vannes.

For those whose ancestor may have been such a one, this would be a find, indeed, as would the sad entry at the end, about a lost child.

Missing child


It is these odd bits of ephemera that have miraculously survived wars and clear-outs that can, on occasion, break through a brick wall and that are, so often, our reason for visiting municipal archives wherever possible.

These were old items and, at the end of our blissfully spent morning, our workspace was littered with crumbled bits of leather and paper. The helpful archivist burst forth with a vacuum cleaner and quickly hoovered up every trace of ancient detritus, recalling childhood memories of our belovèd, departed Kate, who frantically exhibited the same behaviour every time someone used an ash tray.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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