Genealogy in France

French genealogy

We have contact with keen French Genealogists who are willing to help find family records. If you need their assistance please use the contact form below (indicating your email), we will then forward the details to these people.

Please note that our genealogist friends searching for ancestors and will have difficulty to search people born after the 1920s due to French privacy laws. To search for people who are possibly still alive (such as cousins, nephews, parents and relatives) consider using the French telephone directory, social networks or for the urgent matters consider using a private detective.

History of our fathers, a personal study of a family history.

In France, records are kept in local areas. To find your ancestors, you need to know their location. Most French departments offer the free online access to the original records on their web site. You can find a link to the archives here on France-Pub's departmental pages.

Some departments have no plan on releasing their records online or the have the ongoing project.

With the departmental archives, you have the possibility to access for free the original records, sometimes going further back than the year 1700 but it require the knowledge to search French records as well as skills in French, older French and French writing.

There are also several web sites offering transcriptions for a fee such as Geneanet or Genealogy. They have large databases with many other functions and services but require a pay-per-view or monthly subscription.

Lately, France has made many military records information available online. The web site Memoiredeshommes lists many French casualties, mainly of World War One and World War Two but also of other conflicts. This is a very useful web site also available in English, German and Spanish.

Most town and villages have records up to 1902, some less and some of the bigger cities can offer records up to 1910 or 1912. If you want more recent records, you need to directly contact the town hall or "Mairie" or the departmental archive service as well as provide a proof of kin.

You can send us a comment if you need help, we will do the necessary to contact genealogists who will gladly help you but you need to provide us a city/town/village and an approximative date of birth/marriage/death.

Tips and tricks

Here are some key words and dates, as well as their translations, that you will often come across when researching genealogy in France.

  • Archives nationales : national archives
  • Archives départementales : Department archives
  • Archives municipales : Municipal ( town ) archives
  • Etat Civil : Vital records
  • Naissances, mariages, décès ( NMD ) : Birth, marriages, death records ( BMD )
  • Recensement de population : Population census
  • Registre paroissial: Parish register
  • Tables alphabétiques et registres matricules du recrutement militaire : Alphabetic index of military number and military record
  • Tables décennales : Alphabetical index of every birth, marriage and death registered in the decade.

Dates

  • 1539 : Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêt making mandatory for priests to keep records of baptisms and death in their parish.
  • 1793 : Vital Records replace parish records.
  • 1802 : Spread of the "tables décennales".
  • 1902 : Most of the online archives stop at this date, due to the hundred years privacy law regarding records.

Finding family & friends

If you are looking for villages or towns for places of birth, you can go read the list on this page.

The French revolution forced many people to change their family names, they attempted to erase or disguise any notion of a noble family history. For example a family called "De la Fontaine" would have changed the name to just Fontaine, or De Roi would have shorted the name to Derois.

If you are looking for surnames and know the town or village try using the telephone directory : White pages, from the main French telephone company, the site is available in English.

You can also try to contact the town hall of the place of birth in question. As far as I know, you can send a letter directly to the town hall or "Mairie" asking your questions, but you should provide some kind of proof of kin such as a photocopy of your passport.

Your comments

I cannot tell you how much we appreciate your assistance with this matter. It is so difficult when the records are written in French without an interpretation. I wish so much I had learned to speak the language. I will check out the additional web site you suggested. I am just getting started trying to create a family tree for our mother and fathers sides of the family. This is from my father's side. It is extremely exciting to find this much information, and extremely wonderful to find a kind person to interpret.
I have told my husband that I am beginning to save so that I can visit the place of my great-great grandmother's birth. I hope that you don't mind if I keep your contact information, and keep in touch in the event we have more questions or when I have finally saved the funds to come to France.
You are very kind to help a stranger... may a kindness be returned to you.Anonymous