with special thanks to Chris Millington (Swansea), who originally wrote this post in August 2014 for his own blog, French History Online.
I’m posting this guide (based on my own experience) because like the Archives Nationales, the archives of the Prefecture of Police have moved out of the centre of Paris. Once located a short walk from Notre Dame, the new site is in Pantin in the north east of the city. You can reach Pantin by taking line 5 to the ‘Hoche’ metro station. Though Pantin is more accessible than Pierrefitte (the location of the new AN), it still may take some time to get there – but the trains on metro line 5 are much more pleasant than those on line 13. From the 13th arrdt, it took me about 35 minutes, and there is a 5 minute walk once you arrive.
Leave the metro station via exit 2 – ‘Pré Saint-Gervais’ – and turn right onto the street of the same name. Take the second left (rue Gutenbrg) and then the first right (rue Baudin). When you get to rue Baudin it isn’t at all obvious which building houses the archive. In fact, on my first visit I had not noted down the number of the building (it’s 25-27) and so I spent some time walking up and down rue Baudin trying to decide which building ‘looked like’ an archive. Fortunately, I picked the right one but I’ve posted a picture of it so you don’t waste as much time as I did.
Enter the site via the green gate to the car park on the left side of the building (press the intercom buzzer to be admitted). Once inside, go to the desk on the left to register. You’ll be asked for the usual information (name, address, subject of research). Once registered, you receive a card (unlike at the former site where it was necessary to sign in each day) and a key for a locker which corresponds to the number of the seat where you’ll be sitting in the reading room. You may want to have a look in the reading room and request a specific place as not all seats have easy access to a plug socket. Leave your belongings in the allocated locker; the rules on what you can take into the room are pretty standard for an archive – computer, camera, paper, pencil.
Opposite the registration desk are several computers on which you can consult a digitised inventory. This is an improvement upon the former site where inventories were kept in ring binders. When you have found the catalogue numbers you are looking for, use the same computer to order your documents. There are research guides available in the registration area too, if you need help or inspiration. Note that you can only order TWO boxes per HOUR.
Once you’ve ordered, wait for your documents in the reading room. It takes half an hour or more for them to arrive. The room is bright and comfortable. The desks are not as spacious as those at the AN Pierrefitte, but you should have enough room unless there is someone next to you. Unfortunately (and unforgivably?) there is no wired or wireless internet access in the room!
Once your documents have arrived, a member of staff at the counter in the reading room should let you know, but this is not always the case. However, you will be able to see your boxes behind the counter, so go and ask for them if no one has informed you of their arrival. When you are finished with the box, return it to the counter. If you need it for the next day, ask for the member of staff to put it to one side for you (mettre à coté).
While the new site is perfectly fine for research, my biggest complaint is that there is nowhere in the building to have a break. This was a problem with the former location too, though at least there was a nice park nearby, with a view of Notre Dame to boot. If like me you bring your own lunch to eat, and need a coffee break now and again, there is nowhere to do this in the building, and there is no park nearby (or at least I haven’t found one). Having said that, there are a few small cafes in the surrounding streets if you want to venture out and buy something, and there is a small bakery at the exit of the metro too. And so while it may be more of a hassle to get to Pierrefitte than Pantin, the new AN building (which was purpose built for researchers) includes some of the little extras (internet!) that we like.