Municipal and Communal Archives

Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley

Vessel

Last Saturday's online French genealogy conference, the Salon Virtuel de Généalogie, was excellent as to content but, as we mentioned on the day, somewhat flawed as to microphone quality. We enjoyed a number of talks, especially that by Sandrine Roux-Morand about Alsace Moselle research, to which you can still listen for two more days here, and that by Laurence Abensur-Hazan on French Jewish genealogy resources, delivered at speed, in great clarity and without slides, to which you can still listen here.

Two  lectures were covering topics that are right up the research alley in which we find ourselves at the moment. That on resources online for researching French sailors and merchant seamen, by Christian Duic, and the utterly fascinating lecture by Marine Leclercq-Bernard on using medical archives in genealogical research

We began with Madame Leclercq-Bernard's lecture on La Généalogie Médicale. She discussed the cases of those who were identified legally as carriers of diseases and the medical protocols for identifying and notifying those with hereditary diseases. Her explanation of the archives to use was, Dear Readers, a revelation. So many series that we never knew, with possibilities for discoveries that we never imagined, were described that we now long for a poorly French ancestor to hunt down in them. Most of these series are within the Departmental Archives and are not online; many are in the Archives hospitalières, but Madame Leclercq-Bernard also suggested that one could seek in the archives concerning abandoned children and in the archives of the military hospitals. She explained how a researcher might trace a medical problem back through a number of generations using these archives. Do, do listen to this talk while there still is time.

Christian Duic's talk closely follows his book, Retrouver un ancêtre marin but, aware of our lack of mobility during these times of quarantine, he narrowed the focus to online research of sailors and merchant seamen. (As you will know from our own recent series on Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars, this area of research is one in which we are keenly interested.) We urge you to listen to his talk while there is time, particularly if you have been having trouble with the Le Havre passenger and crew lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime, for (at about the 27th minute in the talk) he walks the viewer through it.

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same class, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. Without an awareness of this naval draft and the naval matricules, one will not comprehend Monsieur Duic's lecture or his book.

Now, watch those lectures! Vite!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Our Eleventh Birthday - In Quarantine!

11th Birthday under lockdown pink

Ah, Dear Readers, many predicted this but could any of us have imagined life under quarantine? When we began our series about researching American mariners on the twenty-second of January, the press contained a few reports of an epidemic of some concern in far away China. By the time the series came to an end, a couple of weeks ago, the entire world was battling a pandemic and most of us in quarantine at home.  Like everyone else, The FGB is soldiering on as best as possible, doing French genealogical research.

In truth, much as we adore visiting the currently shut archives of France, we also take great pleasure in online research. For any of you who have been with us since the beginning, you will know that part of our mission is to explain to you, in English, how to research your French ancestors online. What better time than now to do an update on our favourite sites? 

GENERAL, BROAD RESEARCH

The index to the finding aids of the Archives nationales

Forever being updated, so always worth checking again and again, this is one of the first places to begin researching any French, especially Parisian, ancestor. It is not only for the prominent. All kinds of people from all parts of the country crop up here. Our post here explains how to log on.

Ancestry

Ancestry is not particularly useful for French research but it is excellent for tracing all possible documentation on a French ancestor who went to another country, in that country. Immigrant records of the USA, Australia and the UK about a French ancestor's new life can be excellent in finding all versions of the person's name, his or her birthdate and birth place. The same holds true for MyHeritage.

FamilySearch

The site has more and more French records scanned but the indexing than a kindergarten crafts room when the children have just left it. Use with grave caution or only when you know exactly what you seek and where it should be.

Généanet

This and the next are France's largest and most important commercial genealogy research sites. Généanet has a messy, outdated interface but is a superb resource, especially for original documents from Paris and especially for people of the eighteenth century.

Filae

Filae is better for researching people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of particular value are two national censuses that have been indexed, that of 1872 and that of 1906. Additionally, the French office of statistics (INSEE) death records are, in many cases, the only way to find a death that occurred after 1902. With access in English.

Geopatronyme

Check your surname here. French names were contorted, some beyond recognition, in anglophone countries. Once you start researching French records, you need to have the correct name. Playing with your variations on Geopatronyme will help you to see what is and what is not possible. Read our original post about this site here.

 

LOCATION SPECIFIC RESEARCH

Begin with the websites of the Departmental Archives relative to the department where your French ancestor lived. See the links in the column to the left. Recall that many large cities have their own websites. Marseille, Brest, Paris, Lyon and many more have digitized documentation not found on the websites of the Departmental Archives. To find the sites, search, or google, the city name and "archives municipales".

ANOM

For ancestors who lived in the French colonies, overseas territories or overseas departments, the Archives nationales d'outre-mer are the best place to begin. Read our report on a talk about this service by the archivist here.

Optants

If your ancestors said they were from Alsace-Lorraine, this website has listed the names of those who, from outside the region in 1872, claimed French nationality. Read our first post about the Optants here.

Projet Familles Parisiennes

This superb site is a treasure of documentation on eighteenth century Parisian families. The index links to digitized documents from the National Archives hosted on the website of Généanet but are free to view. Read our post about the project here.

 

 

We will list more good sites in our next post.

During this time of confinement for the public good, perhaps we all can extend our French genealogy networks. Take very good care, Dear Readers.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


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


The Municipal Archives of Lorient

AM Lorient 1

AM Lorient 2

This town, with this archives, was for the most part destroyed in the Allied Bombing raids of 1943 (you can read here of how the Allies decided that, since they could not destroy the German-built submarine base, they would wipe out the French town instead). So far as our subject area is concerned, this destruction is obvious from the paucity of the archives holdings. Most municipal archives around France have  their administration's precious collection of internal and external passports issued during the Revolution. These are one of the few types of documents that help in tracing people during that chaotic time. The Municipal Archives of Lorient, sadly, have none.

The town's parish and civil registrations, as they have been digitized, cannot be seem in the original but only online (this protection of originals once they have been digitized is normal throughout France). Should a visitor wish to view them, he or she is quite brusquely and officiously waved toward the computer desks and told to "get to work". Cowed, we did so, as did all others who entered, as obedient as schoolchildren being reprimanded by the maitresse. We were discouraged to find the usual helpfulness of French archivists not in evidence.

Then, we began to notice a peculiar pattern. Ever so meekly, supplicants would go to the main desk, saying:

"I've tried and I've tried and I just cannot find my ancestor in the digitized images.". In response, the archivist heaved the great sigh of the long-suffering public servant, impatient and exasperated at having to help these doltish members of the public.

"Give me the dates, places and names that you have and I'll try to get you started." These details in hand, she then whizzed through screens, finding the birth or marriage registration in a trice. "Et voilà," she said with scorn, printing the registration and handing it to the grateful supplicant. "And then, you see, you can find the births from the marriage and the deaths from the Tables décennales," she continued, whisking out printed registrations of more generations as she explained and handing them also to the beaming supplicant.

 "Oh, merci, Madame," the supplicant breathed, practically bowing in gratitude. Turning away from the desk, each such meek and helpless researcher winked at the others in the room. Then, the next went to the desk and pleaded helplessness in the same way as the first had done and received the same scornful and abundant assistance. Thus, though the archivist absolutely refused to do any research for patrons of the archives (which refusal, by the way, is normal throughout the world) quite a number of supplicant patrons walked away, pleased as Punch, with some very fine, free research done for them. 

So, Dear Readers, we recommend the empty Municipal Archives of Lorient highly and suggest that you go there in all haste before the inevitable fall that follows such pride ends this boon.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Municipal Archives of Colmar, un vrai cauchemar

AM Colmar

Well, Dear Readers, we may have met our match, being the staff of an archive facility to dampen our enthusiasm. We sauntered in to the Archives municipales de Colmar on a cold and sunny Monday afternoon. The reading room was small but easily accessible.

AM Colmar reading room

The staff were joking and making strange cat meow imitations amongst themselves, yet there was a glint of malice in the eye of one and overt suspicion in that of another (we will let off the apprentice, even though, later, when he blundered as to a carton number, he offered to forgive us the mistake.)

Procedures were as usual. We completed forms and showed our identity card. All was acceptable, it seemed. We were then handed a flimsy ticket by way of a reader's card, given with an explanation as slow as if we were a possible fool (and were we, for going there in the first place, we wonder), "This is so you will not have to fill out the forms again if you ever come back". The tone clearly implied that we had better not. Back to joking with one another and making animal sounds, no one offered to help us with finding aids; no one asked about our research or how to orient us. To be sure, these things are not required but they are a nicety one find regularly in most French archives.

AM Colmar - Purple

With real trepidation, we put our bags in the designated locker - purple again. (What attraction do the municipal archives of the region see in this ghastly shade of purple?) That done, we turned to the set of drawers that dominated the room and that had lured us from the moment we entered. They held large index cards of transcriptions of every single parish registration made in Colmar, from its earliest days, all in alphabetical order. A genealogical researcher's dream!

AM Colmar Index cards

We plunged in, looking at names in the letter Z, when the jolly animal imitator appeared from nowhere and quite forcefully slammed shut the drawer. We barely managed to save our fingers and looked at him with our own concoction of dismay and disdain. "I was afraid you might bump your head", he said, as irrationally as a madman.

It went from bad to worse.

We moved to the relative safety of a table and took out our notepad, pencil and camera. From behind a glass wall lunged a possible archivist, a woman of a certain age, in a shawl and dudgeon, scolding us from afar. "No photographs! You must ask permission before every photograph! You must write down every picture you take!" We were taken aback, not so much by the request, an extreme version of the norm, but by its somewhat frantic and hysterical delivery.

As the afternoon wore on and the staff's jokes and scoldings wore us down, we did manage to discover that this is an amazing archival collection covering hundreds of years of the city's history. Should you ever decide to visit the Municipal Archives of Colmar, wear a suit of armour and, as the staff will do nothing to help you, we show you here what we found to be one of the best of finding aids for the holdings from the beginnings to 1815.

Sittler

Accompanying this are large, green books that give a great deal more detail for each series, including complete lists of all names that appear. Additionally, for the era during the Revolutionary years, Colmar, unlike many cities, has annual census returns for the years 1790 through 1815, with only a couple of gaps.

Should your ancestors hail from Colmar, Dear Readers, you really should visit these archives but be warned, oh be warned.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Sad Archives Municipales of Epinal

AM Epinal Brochure

This has to be one of the saddest and most neglected of all the archives facilities we ever have visited. It is clear that municipal archives have not yet landed on France’s golden list of improvement projects. A dozen cities or more now have fabulous tram systems. Nearly all of the Departmental Archives have received new buildings, many of them close to one of those luxurious tram stops. Public spending is something in which France glories and we really do wish that they would spend on municipal archives.

AM Epinal Entry

The sad municipal archives of Epinal are housed, literally, in a garage. It is the city’s garage for its service vehicles, so there was a great, stinking rubbish truck next to the entry when we arrived. At the sight of it, we suddenly understood why our efforts by e-mail to make an appointment to visit the archives had been brusquely rebuffed.

The archives website said it was open but could be visited by appointment only. We wrote and asked for an appointment. No, we were told. We wrote again asking to see those documents pertaining to religious history in the town. No, we were told, and it was suggested that we try the Departmental Archives of Vosges. We tried one more time, asking for a series that is almost always in municipal archives and not others, the passports issued by towns during the Terror in 1793 and 1794. No, again.

We went for a walk. We looked at the town. As we walked, that unwarranted rejection niggled, so we strolled up to the garage, braved the smell and opened the door marked archives. Grim stairs were to be climbed. We arrived in a tiny, electric purple entry that was also the reading room. One desk, one chair and shocking purple walls constituted the most remarkable reading room we have yet tried.

AM Epinal reading room

Stunned at our arrival, the assistant rushed to our aid, while her superior bellowed orders from her office but did not come round the corner to see us. In this tiny space, it seemed ludicrous. Yet, when she overheard that we were asking about a specific series, she came bounding out with unexpected enthusiasm and was most helpful. We were able to book to see the cartons that afternoon.

When we returned after the lunch break, there were smiles all around. The cartons were ready, the extremely helpful assistant had gone online and printed off numerous pages related to and most helpful for our research. Her boss had retreated around the corner and was again shouting comments without coming out.

The research was not entirely without result. We took some photos and asked permission to put them here to show to you, Dear Readers, as nice nineteenth century examples of passports issued by French consulates. For the first time ever, permission was refused.

“Ask at the town hall,” came the bitter shout. The assistant smiled apologetically. We thanked her and left, carrying with us the impression not that this was wilful obstruction, but that we had that day witnessed an extreme case of professional despair, one most warranted, at that.

Dear Readers, should you ever find yourselves in Epinal, do two things:

1) Visit and use the Municipal Archives, and

2) Visit the town hall (a five minutes’ walk away) and leave a written complaint at the bad treatment and housing of the archives, while praising the archivists.

Perhaps we can help to bring about an improvement.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Bordeaux Municipal Archives - Archives Bordeaux Métropole

Bordeaux Municipal Archives

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.

 

Bordeaux Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs Bordeaux

 

Finding Bordeaux Archives

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.

 

Archives security

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. 

Bordeaux Archives

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. 

 

Last dinosaur of Bordeaux

 

We took the tram to the Hôtel de Ville stop and entered that lovely building. 

 

Bordeaux Hotel de Ville

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

French Genealogy


Privacy Restrictions on French Documents

Town Hall

We have covered this some time ago, but recently have noticed that misinformation on the subject abounds and so, here we go again.

The French, as well as most European nationals, value and protect their privacy. The right to privacy is considered more important than the public's right to know and it is considered more important than the freedom of the press, especially where children are concerned.

Thus, in France, certain documents that contain personal details are closed to public access for a particular period of time. Since 2008, the periods of restriction on access for types of documentation have been as follows:

  • Birth registration / acte de naissance - 75 years
  • Marriage registration / acte de mariage - 75 years
  • Death registration / acte de décès - no restriction
  • Ten-year indices to the above three /  tables décennales - no restriction
  • Census returns / recensements - 75 years
  • Notarial records / actes notariés - 75 years
  • Judicial records / archives judiciaires - 75 years
  • Personnel records / dossier de personnel - 50 years
  • Medical records / secret médical - 25 years after the death of the individual or 120 years after his or her birth

Generally, these limits are calculated from the end of the year and/or the closure of the register. However, sometimes it is possible to obtain a copy of a record for which the limitation date has passed before the end of that year, if one asks nicely.

It is very important to note that public access to the record does not mean that the information may be published. This was confirmed by a court ruling recently. In that case, reported by a Le Monde journalist, a historian had researched over six thousand families, gathering thousands of birth, marriage and death registrations and published a book about them. The people who were the subjects of some of these registrations were still alive. One of the birth registrations contained a marginal note that the child had been adopted. This person was among those still alive and sued the author for having revealed the adoption in his book, which the complainant claimed was a violation of his privacy. The court ruled in his favour.

Thus, though you may request a document once it is available, you may not publish the information in it without the permission of the person it concerns, should he or she be alive. Should you be in the process of writing your French family genealogy with an eye to publishing it, beware! 

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Municipal Archives of Dieppe

Dieppe mediatheque

We have been working on our own research of late. It took us back to the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime and, for the first time, to the Municipal Archives of Dieppe. These are not easy to find. They have no website and most of the entries on genealogy websites refer to a facility that no longer has the archives in it. There seems to be no telephone or e-mail address specifically for these archives either.

Dieppe has been an important port for centuries, home to many immigrants from Britain and a few from the United States. Dramatic stories of daring privateers pepper its history. We had an intense yen to see those archives, so we determined to try what looked the most likely place: a médiathèque. Médiathèques are libraries with mixed media in that along with books to loan, they have compact disks, videos, computer games and such items to loan as well.

The Médiathèque Jean Renoir seemed our best hope, so we took the train from Rouen to Dieppe and walked five minutes to the most unprepossessing entry we have encountered in quite a long time (see above). Ugly it may be but we were pleased to learn that somewhere in the building were the archives, entitled the Fonds anciens. After a pleasant wander through the library section, we found in a back corner the entry to the archives.

AM Dieppe entry

We sensed a lack of proper respect for and appreciation of local history, perhaps. Down the stairs, we at last came upon the long-sought archives. Notice the pipes overhead?

Dieppe archives

Some municipal archives have more than others. As we have written often, the Allied bombing of Normandy and Brittany damaged, even obliterated some archives. One never knows what one will find, or not. We found that the Dieppe archives are a little treasure trove, maintained and managed by keen staff.

The archivist was a kindly gentleman with a nicotine addiction that caused frequent disappearances. When he was in the room he explained to us the finding aids then dashed out to search for the cartons we requested as soon as we had written down the requests. He returned carrying in his arms a stack of cartons so high that it surely blocked his vision. He could not bring us enough. Barely had a query left our lips before he was off again to bring another pile of cartons. Never before have we had archival access with such abandon.

As ever, it is in municipal archives where one finds the internal passport registers of the early nineteenth century.

Passports

We find these to be particularly wonderful for their descriptions of an individual, such as this of Captain John Skinner, Junior of Boston, aged thirty-five, about six feet tall, and who had light brown hair, a low forehead, light blue eyes, a long nose, a big mouth, round face, and an oval chin with a scar.

Skinner

 

Municipal archives also will have any local census that may have been taken. We found one for Dieppe from the Republican year An XIII, 1805 to 1806, some thirty years before the first French national census. Happily, we found the family we were researching, living on the street around the corner from the médiathèque. Additionally, these archives hold a superb collection of early nineteenth vessel accounts, with the names of each of the crew and what they were paid, and lists of the licensed fishermen from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. 

Excellent!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Municipal Archives of Lorient - Nice Little Film

AM Lorient

We have not visited the Municipal Archives of Lorient, but it is on our very long list of archives we long to see, not only for its holdings but as it is housed in  the old Compagnie des Indes building. (The archives concerning employees of that company are described by us here. The archives of the company and its administration are described here. Surprisingly the New York Public Library has seven volumes of the company's administration records of the company on Il de Bourbon, described here.)

In preparation for a visit, we discovered this very nice film on its website. It is in French, which some may not understand, but is well worth viewing to get an idea of what the inside of smaller French archives look like. Watch the film by clicking here. Should you happen to have ancestors from Lorient, the parish and civil registers of the city are online on the same website here.

Very nice!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy