Genealogy in France
We have contact with a French genealogist who is willing to help you find family records and, if you wish so, to research your family tree. If you need his services or simply wish to make an inquiry, use the following link to visit his website Stories of our forefathers, a personal study of family history. The website is in French but an English page detailing his offers is available here. Our friend has a Master of Arts in Early Modern History (with unanimous congratulations from the jury) and is able to search, find and read old pre-revolutionary records as well as keep track of all the references he finds if you want to hire him.
Please note that in general, our genealogist friends researching your ancestors will have difficulty searching for 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 other relatives) consider using the French telephone directory, social networks or for the urgent matters consider using a private detective.
In France, records are kept in local areas. To find your ancestors, you need to know their location. Most French departments offer 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 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 requires the knowledge to search French records as well as skills in French, older French and French writing (paleography).
There are also several web sites offering transcripts 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. The authenticity or exactitude of the transcripts on these websites is not guaranteed. The services of a genealogists are better way to ensure you learn about your family history.
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 towns 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.
If you contact our genealogist friend, please give him as much information as you can about the ancestor you would like to find. He will then do what is necessary to find more information.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.Anonymous
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.