1. French Genealogical Records

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Several historical events and colonization have lead French people to emigrate such as Huguenots in the Netherlands, England, Germany and Switzerland, and pioneers of New France in America. Here are some information to help you trace your French ancestors.

In the administrative divisions of France, there are 95 departments in metropolitan France and 5 overseas departments. Each department has its own archives which are separate from the National Archives (Archives Nationales).

The genealogical records you need to trace your French ancestors are kept at these Departmental Archives (Archives Départementales) and in local town halls where they are called Municipal Archives (Archives Municipales).

Parish Registers (Registres paroissiaux)

In 1539, King Francis I of France ordered the general keeping of baptismal and burial registers. The marriage registers have been introduced in 1579.

The Parish Registers are kept at the Departmental Archives.

The contents have changed over time but here are the information you can expect to find:

Baptism:

  • Date of baptism
  • Child’s first name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Father’s surname, first name and occupation
  • Mother’s maiden name, first name and occupation
  • Godparents

Marriage:

  • Date of marriage
  • Spouses
  • Surname and first name
  • Age
  • Where born
  • Occupation
  • Place of residence
  • Parents
  • Wether divorced, widow or widower
  • Witnesses

Burial:

  • Date of burial
  • Surname, first name, age and occupation of the deceased
  • Date and place of death
  • Cause of death
  • Witnesses

Civil Registers (Registres d’état civil)

In 1792, during the French Revolution, the Legislative Assembly has introduced the Civil Registers for the general keeping of birth, marriage and death records but the Parish Registers are still in use for the Catholics.

The Civil Registers are kept at the local town halls and a copy is send to the Departmental Archives after 100 years.

Here are the information you can expect to find in the Civil Registers:

Birth:

  • Date and time of bitrh
  • Child’s first name and sex
  • Father’s surname, first name, age, occupation and place of residence
  • Mother’s maiden name, first name, age, occupation and place of residence
  • Godparents and declarants

Marriage:

  • Date of marriage
  • Spouses
  • Surname and first name
  • Age
  • Where born
  • Occupation
  • Place of residence
  • Parents
  • Wether divorced, widow or widower
  • Witnesses and declarants

Death:

  • Date and time of death
  • Place of death
  • Cause of death
  • Surname, first name, age and occupation of the deceased
  • Wether infant, bachelor or spinster, married, divorced, widow or widower
  • Declarants

Decennial Tables (Tables décennales)

The Decennial Tables are a ten-year alphabetical index of all births, marriages and deaths recorded in the Civil Registers. They are very useful to quickly search for a person.

The Decennial Tables are kept at the local town halls and a copy is send to the Departmental Archives after 100 years.

Here are the information you can expect to find in the Decennial Tables:

Birth:

  • Date of registration
  • Child’s surname and first name

Marriage:

  • Date of registration
  • Surname and first name of the spouses

Death:

  • Date of registration
  • Surname and first name of the deceased

Censuses (Recensements)

The French Censuses have been held in 1831, 1836, 1841, 1846, 1851, 1856, 1861, 1866, 1872, 1876, 1881, 1886, 1891, 1896, 1901, 1906, 1911, 1921, 1926, 1931, 1936, 1946, 1954, 1962, 1968 and 1975.

Here are the information you can expect to find in the Censuses:

  • Street name and number
  • Name and first name
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Rank
  • Occupation
  • Wether infant, bachelor or spinster, married, divorced, widow or widower
  • Nationality

Military Records (Archives militaires)

The most frequently used French military records are military recruitment records (Registres matricules) which date back to the 19th century.

Here are the information you can expect to find in these records:

  • Name and first name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Parents
  • Occupation
  • Height and facial characteristics
  • Wars, wounds, etc.

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