French departmental archives, French records, French roots, French ancestors, French genelaogy, French professional genealogist
French archives

Discovering the French departmental archives

9 August 2021

In the first part of this publication, we have seen the French National Archives. It is time now to discover the French departmental archives. In this post, you’ll also learn what you can find in French records.

The Departemental Archives

There are 100 departmental Archives in France. 96 are in metropolitan France, and 4 overseas (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and Guyane). These Archives are opened to the public and free. You will find registers that are more than 100 years old:

  • Civil registration (birth, marriage and death records)
  • Church records (before 1792)
  • Census records
  • Notarial records
  • Military conscription records,
  • Hospital records
  • Land register
  • and more !

96 Departmental Archives are available online. However, the proposed online digital records can vary greatly from one department to another.

Town registers

Along with the records you can find at the Departemental Archives, the town registrars have specific records such as:

  • Electoral lists
  • Tax documents (from the late Middle Ages to the 18th century).
  • Records of the town council

Access to archives will be the same as in departemental archives.

French departmental archives, French archives, French roots, French genealogy, French professional genealogist

Chapelle Saint-Roch aux Minimes, sépultures : registre paroissial. 1623 – 1790. Photo Credit: Ville de Toulouse, Archives municipales, cote GG694

What information will you find in the BMS?

In a baptism record, in addition to the date, you will find the child’s forename along with the father’s and mother’s forename and surname, plus his/her godfather’s and godmother’s names. Keep in mind that those information, or the lack of, depends upon the priest. Sometimes, the deed will provide the date of marriage : « born of the legitimate marriage of his parents which took place in this parish on December 12th, 1678 », or the family ties between the godfather/mother and the child. If you are lucky enough, you might even find a registrar with a decennial table. Unfortunately, you can also find baptism record with very few information, such as « on this day, I baptized a female child named Marie by Jean Dutour and Marie Lafond, her godfather and godmother » .

The sepulture records will give you the deceased’s forenames and surname, sometimes his/her age ; date of death and/or burial ; the spouse’s forenames and surname,  and/or father’s and mother’s ; name of the witnesses. Like the baptism record, you may find a deed with fewer information «  on this day, was buried Jean Martin, aged about 61, in the presence of Jean Martin » .

The marriage record is by far, the most interesting, and an important deed for any genealogist. You’ll find the names of the groom and bride, their age and/or date and place of birth ; their parents’ names, sometimes with their occupation and addresses ; the witnesses’s names, sometimes with the age, occupation, and family ties. The higher up in the social ladder, the more information you will find.

What information will you find in the civil registration?

In the birth record, you will find the place, date and time of registration, date and place of birth, the child’s surname and forenames, the parents’ names (with mother’s maiden name), and the names, ages, and professions of two witnesses. Depending upon the time period and locality, the records may also provide information such as the age of the parents, the father’s occupation, the birthplace of the parents, and the relationship of the witnesses to the child, or parents. If the mother was single, her parents’ names were listed.

The civil marriage registers will give you many information such as date, time and place of the marriage ; forenames and surname of the groom and bride, their age, date and place of birth ; their addresses and occupation ; their parents’ fullnames, age, addresses and occupation, or their date and place of death, if known ; if there is a wedding contract ; names, age, occupation and addresses of the witnesses.

If one of the future spouses had already been married, the deed will provide any information regarding the previous marriage(s), such as names and date of death of the first spouse, or names of the divorced spouse.

The death records will provide information about the deceased’s forenames and surnames, age, date and place of death ; the parent’s names ; names, ages, occupation, addresses of the witnesses, sometimes with the ties to the deceased. Depending upon the time period, death records will also provide information such as the deceased occupation, but also the spouse’s names, whether he/she is still alive. Women are registered under their maiden name.

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