Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fulfilling day in Grenoble

Once again, I took the train to spend the day in Grenoble at the Archives départementales de l'Isère: a friendly and efficient patrimonial institution. I can think of no more enjoyable excursion than this return to rare documentary sources concerning Choranche. It's pure luxury: taking a comfortable train ride to a building in a nice city where I can simply look up the marvelous notarial documents revealing the background of my adoptive home place, Gamone. Every old document that I encounter [today, I was examining the years 1880 and 1881] is a mini-masterpiece of humanity. I skim through all kinds of consequential, less consequential, but often dramatic events.

This morning, as I was driving down from Gamone, I ran into my neighbor Georges Belle on his moped. He told me he was coming up here to see whether he could find saplings for his tomato plantation. Georges is an old-timer who lives in the splendid Carthusian building located midway between Gamone and the village of Choranche. He knows I'm interested in local history... but there's no way in the world that this grumpy old guy might invite me into his Carthusian abode, which is probably quite a mess.

Before my day in Grenoble was over, I had learned that the property of Georges once belonged to a certain Julien Chabert. I also learned that a former owner of Gamone, the carpenter Eugène Gerin [1843-1891], purchased a vegetable garden in Pont-en-Royans on July 11, 1881... which suggests that, at that date, he hadn't yet acquired Gamone. Why would a fellow buy a vegetable patch in Pont-en-Royans if he already had enough space to grow vegetables—as I do today—at Gamone? So, that leaves me with a decade of notarial archives within which I should theoretically be able to find a document concerning Eugène Gerin's purchase of Gamone. The vegetable plot thickens...

Searching through archives is in fact a relatively sporting activity. First, you need to be intellectually alert, in the sense that you're using your powers of reasoning to find needles in haystacks. You have to be able to manipulate the fat dossiers of rusty old documents. And you need sufficiently good eyesight to browse rapidly through piles of hand-written pages of notarial acts, trying to glimpse a significant term such as Choranche. Personally, in a normal day of researching, I find that I can get through some two years of notarial documents. After that, everything starts to get blurry... which is definitely not good for this kind of activity. Maybe, one of these days, genealogy and local history research will be accepted as Olympic sports.

No comments:

Post a Comment