Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Grand Mémorial - a new database of the French Army

I take a pause in my Delvert-ing activities to post news of a new database on the French Army of the Great War, launched on 11 November.

The Grand Mémorial is a gateway to two sets of digitized documents. The first is the record cards of those who were killed in action - morts pour la France (MPLF). These are already approachable by name, but recently, an indexing project has been undertaken to include the other fields on each card - unit, place of birth and enlistment, place and cause of death (I originally wrote about it here).

The second set consists of the digitized registres matricules, held in each departmental archives across France. These registers list every man who was called up, by the year of his enlistment, with details of his family, occupation, educational level and military career. Many of these are already digitized, but are available only through the website of the archive. What the Grand Mémorial site does is to combine the index of each departmental archive, to which is added the existing MPLF indexing, to create a grand index covering all those who served.

It sounds good, doesn't it? But we know it's not quite as simple as that. I already noted the incompleteness of the MPLF indexing (although this is being remedied by volunteers); further, not all the indexes of the registres matricules have been added to the site. Frustratingly for my Delvert project, those of Eure-et-Loir (where his regiment had its depot) are still only available through the departmental archive website. The plan is to have everything complete by November 2018.

The map shows the current state of the registres matricules. The palest blue indicates those departments whose registers are digitized but not indexed, and are available through their own website. The slightly darker blue indicates departments whose registers are indexed and on the Mémorial. The slightly greener blue (eg 36 and 37) indicates departments whose registers are digitized but access is only available in their respective archive search rooms. The dark blue are those departments with registers that are digitized and indexed, but not yet on the Mémorial (and by implication, the next to be included?). The yellow are those departments with no registers. I hope that's clear ...

The departments currently included, then, are: Ain, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Côtes-d'Armor, Haute-Marne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Hautes-Pyrénées, Mayenne, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe, Seine-Maritime, Yvelines, Somme, Tarn, Var, Vaucluse, Vendée. Plus Algeria and French Polynesia, from the Archives Nationales d'Outre-Mer at Aix-en-Provence (with the following promised soon: Madagascar, Comores, Côte française des Somalis (1889-1918), Réunion (1889-1918), Guyane (1890-1914), Afrique occidentale française (1893-1917), Polynésie (1894-1919), Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (1901-1921) and Nouvelle-Calédonie (1907-1918)).

What can you do? Search by name, obviously. The Advanced Search option also permits searching by place of birth, of enlistment, of abode or of death; you can limit this by date, by educational level and by occupation, using drop-down menus. From this, you find, amongst other things, that ten men on the database gave their occupation as 'acrobat'. Their origins were equally divided between the south (Nice and Toulon) and Brittany (Saint-Brieuc and Guingamp) - was there no call for acrobats elsewhere in the country? 

Some 234 men in the database were born in the UK - most from the Channel Islands and enlisting in Brittany. You just search under 'Royaume-Uni' - there is no need to also search under the constituent parts. And one man came from Ireland - the unfortunate Corporal John Joseph Barrett, born in Ennis (Co Clare) in 1890, enlisted at Dunkerque in 1914, and killed in action on 20 April 1917 at Auberive (Marne), serving with the Foreign Legion.

Helpfully, you can download your results as a comma-delimited file, giving your own research database. I'll go further into the registres matricules, and the information they contain, in my posts about Charles Delvert.

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