Besides doing research for my novel, I’ve had a great time learning the ins and outs of the French archival system. First off, each archive has its own, unique collection. Before asking to look at old documents, you must register yourself and obtain your reading card. Those reading cards allow you to enter collections that are closed to the general public, and they’re well worth the users fees you’ll need to pay to acquire one. Before I came over here, I tried to get a general idea of what each collection contained. I didn’t expect to find original art at the Archives nationales, but I wanted a paper trail of the young artist. The French Geneaology Blog (see the link below this post) has helped me unlock the secrets of operating in this world. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a clue. Language issues plus the mysteries of the French legal system would have left me gobsmacked had I not had such a marvelous resource to consult.
Today, I found the record of a procuration par Turelure a Sieur CONSTANTINi> if an artist turns a work of art over to an art dealer. That’s what I found today when I searched for Turelure or Turlur or Turrelure or Turlur in the wooden index files of the Archives nationales, where an archivist in the nineteenth century painstakingly indexed for every single name recorded in the notary records. Thus, I learned that Noël had given a painting to a Constantin on the 29th of Prairial, year 12 of the Revolution. I didn’t know who this Constantin might be, but later found his name associated with the printer Didot. Pierre Paul Prud’hon, a friend of Noël’s, also had a close association with Didot.
When the box of documents, smelling of vinegar and dust, arrived at my table, I dug into the file hoping to find Noël’s signature. Not there. I searched the hundred or so documents again, going over them and thinking I had missed something. Finally, I debated about attempting to alert the librarian to a possible theft. Screwing up my courage–bon courage, Marylee!–I tied up the canvas strings that held the box together, toted it over the desk where the President of the Salle de Lecteur sits, and hoisted it onto the counter.
When I sort of explained that I thought a thief had filched the procuration, she said no, that the record of that transaction came from notary de Foucompret’s files, and (here she made a gesture of tucking a document in her pocket) Noël walked out with the original document in his pocket, in case Constantin ever tried to cheat him.
The link to The French Geneology website is below. Sorry this isn’t a live link. You’ll have to copy and paste it into your browser, but if you have any thought of doing the kind of research I’ve been doing, you will find much useful information on the site.
http://french-genealogy.typepad.com/ You can also find the site on Facebook.