The last Salon de généalogie was held in March of 2020, as the pandemic was just beginning to sweep the world. We were keen to attend but our children blocked the door, insisting that it was not wise. How grateful we are, for on attending this year's salon, we encountered a few people who were infected with COVID-19 in the previous event, one of them quite seriously and still suffering.
Unsurprisingly, this year's event was subdued and not particularly crowded; there was a somberness and lack of previous years' jollity. No one objected to wearing a mask or to having their health pass checked at the entry. We attended many talks, all of them interesting, and report to you on three of particular note.
"Les Archives nationales du monde du travail en ligne : quelles ressources pour la généalogie ?" ("The National Archives of the World of Work: What Resources for Genealogy?") presented by Raphaël Baumard, the assistant director for the archives. For years, we have wanted to visit the ANMT, but have never been able to manage it, perhaps because the town of Roubaix, where it is located, is often acclaimed as the most dangerous town in France. However, the archivists have always been extremely helpful in responding to our requests to send copies of documents. The purpose of the talk was to introduce the ANMT's sparkling new website, a clear and well-presented resource.
There are a couple of things one needs to know about this collection. Essentially, these are corporate archives that have been willingly donated to the National Archives. The companies did not have to do so, for they were privately owned and France has no law requiring private companies to surrender their corporate history for public scrutiny, more's the pity. (Nationalized companies, however, such as Renault, are required to send their archives, covering the period of nationalization.) Some have privacy clauses that are a bit stringent. (By way of an example, we once requested a letter sent by a man to his bank in 1806. Though the ANMT holds the bank's archives, they were required to get permission to supply the copy.) To use the website, read the online guides first. We appreciate that Monsieur Baumard said they had been completely rewritten, for that indicates an high level of interest in helping users.
If your ancestor worked as a miner or for the railways, there is a good chance of finding a personnel file. Failing that, the company histories can broaden your knowledge about where and how your ancestor worked.
"Comment entrer en contact avec des cousins potentiels : conseils, règles d’éthique" ("How to make contact with possible cousins : advice and ethical rules"). Presented by Marie Cappart. Now, this is a topic much in need of further discussion and we applaud Madame Cappart for broaching it. Her purpose was to advise on how and how not to communicate with different people on the subject of one's family history. Does this seem bossy? We assure you, it is not and it really is very necessary. She discussed best practices for communication with fellow genealogists, with institutions (such as archives), and with non-genealogists (such as the distant cousin who may not be happy to receive your e-mail announcing a hitherto unknown relationship). Particularly pertinent was her advice on what to do when one's genealogical advances are rebuffed and how to cope with such rejection.
"Les archives de Caen sur les conflits contemporains" ("The Archives at Caen of Contemporary Conflicts") Presented by Alain Alexandre, who is the head of this branch of the Service Historique de la Défense archives. The title of the talk belies its content. It really was about researching the French victims of the two World Wars, especially the Second World War. By "victims" is meant not only those who were deported, but those who were executed, tortured, imprisoned, disappeared or who died due to other "acts of war". Included also are the French who fought in the German Army, prisoners of war and those who worked in Germany, whether forced or voluntarily. This entire subject is still extremely sensitive in France, as reflected by the way the speaker said many times that, "c'est délicat".
As to access, he explained that, though the archives "are open to all”, research in the original records can be made by appointment only. To gain an appointment, one must send an e-mail with the name, date and place of birth of the victim being researched. The archivists will then find the file and give an appointment for when it can be viewed. At that point, not waiting for the end of the talk, the room pretty much erupted with fury of many people who have tried this only to be told that there is no file, or have been allowed to see only part of a file. Their view was that the archives are not at all open and that much is being hidden or suppressed. We have to say that the speaker looked rather smug as he denied this. We found it very interesting to observe this exchange between the researchers and the man in charge, much more interesting than the talk itself.
Let us hope that the pandemic will continue to recede and that next year's Salon will be a lively one.
©2021 Anne Morddel