An American Genealogist in Paris.

 

It's difficult to find a refererence to define the remarkable work she's doing. The best we can do is to take a walk around her blog, The French Genealogy Blog. Once there, you'll feel like making an amazing tour guided by somebody who knows very well what is talking about, and specially, enjoying it.

 

GB: Genealogy is a source of family information; we can recover for us and for our relatives a lot of missing kinship on past centuries. But I’m almost sure that this is not the only reason you’re researching on this field. What else do you find in genealogy, as a personal feeling?

AM:I trained as a librarian and worked in libraries and archives throughout my career. I enjoyed every aspect of that work, from collecting and organizing books and documents in a way that they can be useful for others to reading stories to young children. I think that there is a certain passion for research that naturally accompanies such work. Like most serious genealogists, I have that passion to hunt down every detail that I can about the person or family I am researching.

In addition to that rather primal lust for the hunt is another primal emotion, the need for family. I have been away from the place where I was born and reared for almost half of my life. I was not there when my grandmother died, or when my father died, or when my mother died. That distance and the dwindling of my family was a great impetus for me to continue the research that I did on my own ancestors.

GB: Why do you think, in general, people is so compelled to trace their ancestors, to know about their unknown great-great-grandparents, if, in fact, all of this does not change our quotidian life? What’s the change in their lives when they realize they descend from some specific person and not from other one? That knowledge does not modify our current structural genetic map, anyway…

AM: I have thought about this so often!!! Years ago, Europeans sneered at the New World fascination for genealogy. In Europe, many still think that the only people who want to do genealogy are those trying to falsely claim to be aristocrats or even royalty. I do not think that is why most people research their ancestors. Most of us from the New World have little knowledge of who our great-grandparents were. We are a mobile people and have no connection with the towns, places, farms where even our grandparents lived. I certainly have never been to any of the four towns where each of my grandparents was born.

Yet we are historically focused creatures. As a species, the development of language may be our greatest collective creation, and on the personal level, we use it constantly to tell stories of the past to our children. We use written language to document that past, to preserve it and to pass it on to the next generation.

Genealogy helps us to discover who our ancestors were and what they did that made us, in part, who we are. It helps us to place ourselves in the context of history when we learn what part in human history they played. That knowledge is fundamental to our sense of self; it is the recitation of generations of fathers that young boys used to have to learn by heart; it is the memorization of knitting patterns taught to young girls along with the names of the mothers and grandmothers who designed them. Genealogy blends the thrill of the sleuthing with the deep need to be able to recite the names and deeds of our mothers and fathers.

GB: What do you think about tons of information stored in websites; family trees, hundred or thousands of related surnames…are all of that really reliable? What kind of control exists about the storage of that information?

AM: Daunting! There is so much out there and it is increasing so rapidly. Of course, not all of it is reliable, which is why everyone is reminded to “go to the source” for every single detail and fact. If it cannot be documented, it cannot be stated as fact; even if it can be documented, it cannot always be stated as fact.

As to your question of storage controls, I really cannot say. I do not think many people know quite what will happen to all that is on the web. Here in France, the current concern is about ownership of the information and documentation. There is quite a debate about charging for use of archives and for copies of documents, both of which have been free. Genealogy is increasingly popular in France and one can see both sides of the question: the local governments cannot cope with increased usage of archives and demands for copies of états civils, while for many people genealogy is a fascinating and inexpensive pastime in a very expensive country.

GB: Genealogy is generally based in mutual cooperation, work of volunteers, and a lot of altruistic job. That’s very nice. But, don’t you think that, on the other hand, a field of investigation without financial resources could be very limited precisely for that reason?

AM: I think we all know that, sooner or later, we will not be able to do certain parts of the research for ourselves and we will have to pay a fee for an online database and possibly for a professional genealogist. Most of us cannot travel to all of the places where the documents are stored, or read all of the languages we need to read, or have all of the time we would like to devote to research, or have the time to develop the knowledge and expertise in a particular area that will improve the quality of that research. When we reach the point where we have exhausted our travel budgets and the kindness of others, then the databases that charge make good sense. Once that is exhausted, if we still do not have all of our answers, the next level would be to hire a professional genealogist who has access to the records we want.

Most of my clients come to me for one of those original reasons: distance, language, time, expertise. They tend to have all ready gone through the stages I described and have very precise research requests.

GB: Tell us about your personal research in France. Since how long are you traveling, visiting places, like museums, departmental archives, libraries, and all kind of interesting sources of genealogical information?  Are you satisfied with what you already found, or do you think that it’s still remaining a lot of more stuff to be investigated?

AM: I have spent all of my adult life in museums, archives, and libraries around the world, in Africa, South and North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan. Continuing to do so here in France was the natural thing for me to do. Writing about it seemed to fill a niche, giving information in English about French genealogy. For it to be of any use at all, to have any practical value to my readers, the information has to be tested and verified, and the places visited, so that is what I write about in the blog. I take the photographs both to add a bit of visual interest and in order not to have to worry about inadvertently using copyrighted images belonging to others.

Is there more to investigate? The list is endless!!!