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August 29, 2004

Research French civil records in Algeria - CAOM (Aix-en-Provence, France)

Part of my wife's family lived in hte neighborhood of Sibi-bel-Abbès, province of Oran, Algeria, between 1860-1960. The lived in a number of places including Sidi-Bel-Abbès, Boukanéfis, Maison Blanche, Sidi Ali ben Youb, and for some branches, in Oran and Mostaganem.

The Sidi-bel-Abbès area was the home town of the French Foreign Legion and the whole area was considered military territory. Sidi Ali ben Youb was first the location of the local military penitenciary, and then little village was renamed for a while Chanzy by one of my wife's forefathers, David de Dietrich, when he became mayor, in hommage to General Chanzy under which he served at the Solferino battle, Italy, 1859. (Solférino had a major witness, journalist Henri Dunant, who later founded the International Red Cross, remembering the atrocities he saw on the battle field.)

Finding information in Algeria seemed to me quite complicated, and I was stuck for a long while. Some family members had christening records from the Eveché d'Oran, but I lacked the birth, marriage and death certificates. To some extent, for recent information you could try to ask them at the Archives for French people living in foreign territories. It is located in Nantes: the service is free, rather fast (7-15 days), and you can order certificate copies through the web. The only problem is that you need to provide them with the exact information you are looking for (names, parents, dates, places, etc.) which makes it very incovenient if you are trying the expand branches in your family tree.

Fortunately, the Franch National Archives (more on how to use them in another post) have a division called 'Centre des Archives d'Outre-Mer'. They are located in Aix-en-Provence, in the Southern part of France. Access there from Paris is pretty easy: it is now only 3 hours by high-speed train. The center is then located at a 15min walking distance from the bus stop, travelling from the train station to the city center. Beware: they are only open on week days, but you only need an ID card to get in. You can have up to 2 free visits per year there.
They have a new service allowing to view digitized records of most of what was in the Algerian Archives. The process of digitization should be finished by the end November 2004. Most of what you can get there is available online, although you can't access the documents online; you will have to go there, and they have more that doesn't show online. You can research very quickly, as they have spent lots of time entering the document's data (dates, places, names) into the database. You can print screen copies very easily (0,30€ / copy: make sure you bring enough change in coins, 5€ or 10€ notes to recharge your printing card).

I prepared a list of all the people I was looking for, checked with what was available online, and got almost 100 screencopies of documents. I even researched new people that I didn't know about. Expensive trip (train + photocopies), but a must to fast-forward in your research. Make sure you get there early, as there are only about 16 computers connected to the digitized database (with large screens). You can also bring a digital camera to take shots at the screens.

Final words: I didn't have time to got through some of the micro-films there (because there were some documents I couldn't find in the database, and I know for sure they should be, because locations and dates fit), nor the other types of archives (contracts, land records, etc.).

Good luck if you're into genealogy with Algerian connections.


August 29, 2004 at 01:00 PM in Algérie, France | Permalink


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My granfathers came from Spain in a steam ship called Provence and arrive in Brasil in 03.11.1896 ( Santos harbor ), please I'd like to obtain more information about it they came problably from Malaga ( Spain )

Posted by: Miguel Sepulveda | Feb 18, 2005 7:47:29 PM