Category Archives: France
Many people know that the Huguenots were French Protestants who suffered persecution and left France around the 1600s to live in other countries where they felt more welcome. But not many genealogists know that it may be possible to trace their Huguenot ancestors in France. Doing this search online is possible but difficult, so the PDF document below is designed to help.
The Huguenots were members of the Église réformée de France (Reformed Church of France). Some historians estimate that Protestants accounted for 10% of the population of France in the 16th century. That changed following the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris. Over the next 200 years, the Huguenots left France for England, Sweden, Switzerland, Prussia, Ireland, South Africa, Dutch East Indies, and other countries. A few families settled in New France (Quebec) and Russia. Today, the descendants of these Protestant families can be found around the world.
This research guide has been created in two sections:
1600-1685 – Protestant families in France: where they lived. This section is a general overview of the regions of France under the Old Regime, prior to the French Revolution of 1789-1799. It is only a reference tool since family lineage searches in France are not conducted by regions or provinces under the Old Regime, but under modern-day Départements
The 93 départements of France in which Protestant families resided during the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries (1565-1721) A département is like a state. Since the end of the French Revolution (1789-1799), France has been divided into 95 such states, and each département keeps its records in its own regional archives. There are no archives for Bretagne, Normandie, Aquitaine, Aunis or Bourgogne, nor for any of the more than 40 ancient provinces of France that existed prior to the French Revolution.
Before you search for your ancestor, you need to know where the family originated in France. All online family lineage searches in the 95 archives départementales of France (Regional Archives) are done by communes, meaning villages, towns, townships or cities.
From 92 of the 95 archives départementales of France (regional archives), you can look for your ancestor’s commune and then search church registers (registres des paroisses) from 1535 to 1789 or thereabout, civil registers after 1789, tables décennales (civil registers from 1789 onward by 10-year periods), notarial records. Notarial records are some of the oldest online documents you can access online.
Other online databases on the archives départementales de France will probably not help you in determining the places of origin of your Huguenot ancestors, because these date from after the French Revolution.
I have prepared a research guide to the archives départementales of France (See Jacques Gagne, “Researching French Ancestors Online,” Genealogy Ensemble, May 13, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/05/13/researching-your-french-ancestors-online/) In that PDF, I have described the documents which can be viewed online for free. If you are looking for Huguenots, concentrate on the Parish Registers (Church Registers, Registres paroissiaux or Registres de paroisses) from as early as 1535, and Notarial Acts (Actes des notaires.) A few of the notarial acts are from the 15th century, but most from the 16th or 17th centuries.
A third option deals with Protestant Church Registers (Registres protestants or Registre pastoral or Registres des Pasteurs), These are the few Protestant church registers that have survived.
Another option for searching the Archives départementales de France is, once you have determined the name of the ”commune” your ancestor resided in, go through the index of family names within the ”commune” section of the search engine and see if your family names are listed, even if the church registers are Catholic.
If you don’t know where your ancestors resided, for each of the 95 archives départementales of France, I have included websites indicating where certain families lived.
Don’t forget that not all members of a particular family became a Protestant. Some family members may have stayed with the Catholic Church.
Finally, just to add one more complication, your family name in France would have had a different spelling than the modern one. My family name in America is Gagné, but the same family in France is Gasnier or Gagnier: same pronunciation, different spelling. When I research online in France, I enter Gasnier or Gagnier as the family name, never Gagné.
A note about sources:
Much of the information I have compiled about the Huguenots of 16th, 17th and 18th-century France comes from old books that have been digitized. Over a 12-year period, whenever I came across a book dealing with the Huguenots of France, I would extract the names of the communes in which these families resided and add the names of those communes to my database.
I also discovered a database with the names of the Archives des consistoires de France, in which the communes are listed, as well as the Protestant Seigneurs, the Protestant pastors and the names of some of the Protestant families affected by court decisions.
In addition, to these books, I looked at Michelin maps and Larousse dictionaries. They helped me find out, for example, that the town of Bergerac is part of modern Dordogne, a département within the south-west region of France. This region was home to many Protestant families in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
You will find about 15 to 20 regional online databases of Protestant communes in 16th to 18th century France, but only for certain regions. A national listing of the modern départements of France in regard to the Huguenots of past centuries does not exist online.
The oldest family lineage documents in France were written and recorded by notaries in the 13th and 14th centuries. Marriage contracts, purchases and sales of properties, wills (testaments in France), after-death inventories, estate dossiers and other notarial records were stored in safe repositories in the communes (villages, towns, townships and cities) in they had been written and recorded.
In 1535, acts of baptisms were recorded in Catholic parishes for the first time, while acts of marriages began to be recorded ten years later. These church registers were also stored in safe repositories in which they had been written.
Many years later after the French Revolution (1789-1799), the ancient provinces of France during the Old Regime (the Kings of France) were abolished and replaced by new regional governments called Départements. In 2018, there are 95 such regional Départements in continental France.
Meanwhile, notarial acts and acts of births, marriages and deaths after the French Revolution continued to be recorded and stored for safe keeping in the communes where they had been written and recorded.
Many years later, when the Archives départementales were created in France, Parish Registers and Civil Registers in addition to Notarial Records were also grouped by communes. When these documents were digitized and made available online, the same system of organizing documents and archives was maintained.
Today, you can research your ancestors in France by first selecting the places where they lived. Some 92 of the 95 Archives départementales can be searched online this way. For 92 of the 95 Archives départementales of France, all online genealogical searches are free.
All communes are listed within a particular Département in alphabetical order. For each commune selected, you will find the oldest Parish Registers (1535 onward) and, under the heading of Notaires, you will find the records of the notaries who practiced in each community.
If your ancestors immigrated to Nouvelle France (New France) you can discover your ancestor’s home in France fairly easily on the website Fichier Origine, www.fichierorigine.com, a Quebec-based free search engine that describes the origins of hundreds of settlers in New France.
Whether you are a Franco-American or Franco-Ontarian, if your ancestor first came to New France, you should visit Fichier Origine. If your ancestors from France immigrated directly to the United States, Ontario or Western Canada, I have, for each département of France, listed within the attached research guide, tips on how to locate a family name in each and all Départements of France.
The research guide in the PDF below mostly addresses Catholic families of France. I have compiled a separate research guide addressing the Huguenots in France of the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries.
One great advantage of researching by commune in France within your ancestor’s time period is that you can see who their neighbours were of your ancestors and what other family members lived within a particular community.
I prepared a similar guide to the Archives départementales several years ago, and it was also posted on Genealogy Ensemble. Here are the main differences between the old version and this new one:
- Content of online offerings
- Notaries, every year most of these archives are digitizing notarial acts, some dating back to the 15th century and adding them to the online content
- Free online searches to all, including family lineage researchers in America.
- Newly found Parish Registers (Church Registers – Catholic) – Church Registers added online which five years back were not available
- Protestant Church Registers – Les registres protestants – Practically not available a few years back
- Private fonds – some families are turning over their private letters, family histories to archives
- Land documents – Cadastre napoléonien 1807-1850 Practically all of the 95 archives of France today offer detailed description of lands online.
1958 St-Eustache, Quebec. Super 8 film ‘capture.’
I never thought I would write about my Uncle Frank Walter, my Aunt Flo’s husband and my mother’s brother-in law. He is, perhaps, the least controversial figure in our family. One might even call him boring. I never heard a word uttered for or against him – and, believe me, that’s saying a lot .
Frank married Flo her late in life, in 1955, when she was 50 and he was 63. He was a tile painter by trade. He was French from France, my mother told me, but in Quebec that’s hardly exotic. My mother also told me his last name “Walter” was really pronounced “Valter,” but that didn’t seem important.
Frank and Flo, the giddy ‘newlyweds’ would visit us occasionally, in St. Eustache, north of Montreal, where we lived in the mid 1950’s. They had a big black Buick and they took it everywhere on day trips. They also had a Super 8 movie camera and I have a few seconds of faded film of Aunt Flo and me by the swing set. On another visit, they brought me a giant stuffed panda bear. I was enraptured. My brothers later beat the stuffing out of it, out of jealously, I imagine.
My family visited them at Christmas at their apartment in the city on West Hill Avenue in 1964. I have a colour photo with my Dad and us kids sitting on their fancy pink French Provincial style couch that I would inherit much later in the 1980’s and put in our basement.
Frank was very old (in my eyes). He was the closest I came to having a grandfather around. He had grey hair on the thin side and sported a debonair pencil moustach. He was always smoking a pipe. I could sense, even as a child, that he was a bit on the vain side. He had a twinkle in his eye and he still flirted with my Aunt Flo who happily flirted back. They made quite a pair.
Frank died in 1977 and I clearly recall the scene at the grave on a hill with trees in Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery on the mountain, as Aunt Flo wept uncontrollably and the tears rolled down my cheeks in empathy. She was crushed at the loss of her “Ptoutsi.”
I thought of Uncle Frank again, in 1990, when Aunt Flo went into a retirement home. Helping her clear out her apartment, I found a photo album from his WWII service. The album contained many pictures of younger female servicewoman. His girlfriends? He was a ladies man, after all! The album creeped me out, so I tossed it in the garbage.
At the same time, my aunt gave us her ‘junk’ to sell in a garage sale in our suburban garden. One piece was Frank’s foot locker from WWI. (Yes, he participated in two world wars.) A collector came around before the start of the sale, gave the tables in the yard a quick scan and immediately pointed to the foot locker.
“I guess French Infantry foot lockers from WWI are worth something,” I said to my husband, suddenly wishing I’d held on to it.
Intimate ‘captures’ of Frank and Flo from a Super 8 film taken in the mid to late 1950’s in their home.
Left: Domestic life on West Hill, in NDG. Right: A visit to a war memorial in Montreal.
Aunt Flo died in 1999.
The other day, checking up on Aunt Flo in Notre Dame des Neiges cemetery1 where she was laid to rest, I realized she wasn’t in the family plot but buried with Frank and his family.
So, I took a closer look. To my surprise, I saw that Uncle Frank’s full name, at least as listed at the cemetery, was Ferdinand Francois Walter and that he was named after his father, who was buried beside him.
Frank’s Mom, Octavie Turgeon, was there, too. A Quebecois name, that’s for sure. So Frank had a German-sounding father and a French Canadian mother. He wasn’t even from France. He was Canadian-born.
I checked on Drouin and sure enough, Frank’s father, Ferdinand married his mother Octavie in Quebec, in 1890.2 Ferdinand, an engineer, was from Willers, Alsace Lorraine, the son of Francois, and Octavie was from Levis, Quebec.
(Willers, by the way, is one of those achingly picturesque towns in the Haut Rhine.) Ferdinand’s mother was a Berkertz, also German sounding.
Ferdinand’s signature on the marriage document was remarkable in that it was executed in a meticulous ornamental font. I can see where Uncle Frank got his artistic talent. Octavie’s brother signed for her indicating she was illiterate.
The couple sounds like a mismatch. Maybe she was beautiful or rich.
Other Drouin records reveal that Ferdinand Francois, my Uncle Frank, was born in Montreal in 1893.3 WWI military records at LAC reveal Frank enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1916.
“Frank Fern” is how he is registered. So, that prized foot-locker was Canadian Army issue. Fern? Is that a typo, or, back in 1916, did Ferdinand sound too German?
Was Uncle Frank, French or German? Actually, he was something in-between.
I checked the 1891 census to see that Frank’s father, Ferdinand Walter, emigrated to Canada in 1878, a few years after the Franco Prussian war, when Alsace was turned over to the Germans in the Treaty of Frankfurt, 1871. He is listed as “French” and “Catholic.”
I further learned that in 1872 residents of Alsace who wanted to remain French citizens had to make French Citizenship Declarations or automatically become German citizens. These declarations have been digitized and are available on Ancestry with an explanation. Apparently, there were 124 Walters from Alsace who were determined to keep their French citizenship. Five are listed under Francois.
I wonder if most in the Walters clan wanted to remain French. That would take a lot more research.
In the end, I picked up some interesting European history while I learned a rather boring truth about my still very uncontroversial “French” Uncle Frank Walter – the “W” pronounced like a V.
Sorry if I led you to believe otherwise.
Still, I wonder how my young uncle felt in 1916 going back ‘home’ to shoot at his cousins. Perhaps it was just business-as-usual. Alsace-Lorraine was been the site of a vicious tug-of-war between Germany and France for generations.
Ferdinand’s pretty signature on his wedding certificate.
- Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery: Locate a deceased person. https://www.cimetierenotredamedesneiges.ca/en/recherche-defunt
- Ancestry.ca. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records, (Drouin Collection) 1621-1968. Marriage and death.
- Ancestry.ca. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records, (Drouin Collection) 1621-1968. Marriage and death.
- Ancestry. ca. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records, (Drouin Collection) 1621-1968. Marriage and death.
René Emile Raguin, my grandfather, was the last of my relatives to arrive in Canada. He was the only one to return home after he emigrated. His family, originally from Doubs, France, moved to Fleurier, Switzerland soon after he was born.
He arrived in Canada aboard an Allen Line steamship, the Lake Erie and so didn’t have to endure a long voyage on a sailing ship. It was 1910 and he was 23 years old. He had been a Lieutenant in the French army. His father was French and as the son, even though he lived in Switzerland, he had to do his service. He had also trained as a teacher but there were no jobs in Switzerland, so he was fortunate to find a job at the French Protestant school in Pointes aux Trembles, Quebec.
René was a dapper little man with a full beard and moustache. He was sure he was going to be a hit with Canadian girls although his landlady told him they didn’t like men with a lot of facial hair. The morning after meeting Beatrice Bruneau and her sisters, he came down stairs with only a goatee! In later years he only had a small moustache but with a completely shaved head.
René and Beatrice were married in 1912 in Cornwall, Ontario by Beatrice’s father, Reverend Ismael P. Bruneau. Their first daughter Aline Marguerite was born in May 1913. The next summer they sailed to Europe to show off Aline to Rene’s family. Rene enjoyed the voyage, walking on deck with his little daughter, but Beatrice, pregnant with their second child Robert, suffered from sea sickness and was mostly invisible. Rene was very happy chatting with all the other passengers who wondered about the little girl’s mother.
They were having a wonderful time in Fleurier, visiting Rene’s parents, Joseph Marie and Rosina Steinman Raguin and his sister Bluette, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and World War I began. When England declared war on Germany August 4, 1914, returning to Canada as quickly as possible became a priority. As Rene had become a Canadian/British citizen in 1913, they appealed to the British Government and received a document of safe passage through both France and Italy to return to England. They made a quick journey by train from Switzerland to Le Havre, France taking what they could easily carry and leaving their trunk behind.
They made it safely back to Canada where René was then the principal of De La Salle Academy in Trois Riveres, Quebec. The school administration had been worried he wouldn’t return for the beginning of the school year. He used his story to raise money during the war, for the Canadian Patriotic Fund.
Robert was born in December followed by Arthur, Dorothy and Madeleine. René continued teaching and finished his career as a French teacher at Baron Byng High School in Montreal. They spent summers in Dunany north of Montreal where he enjoyed golf and socializing and winters in Montreal where he curled and socialized. He and Beatrice didn’t travel very much, just one train trip to Vancouver to visit their son Robert. They never returned to Europe, never again saw any of Rene’s family, or their trunk.
Rutherdale, Robert. Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to Canada’s Great War. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 2004. Print.
Anecdotes personally communicated to the author by Aline Raguin Allchurch in 2003.
Passeport; original document in possession of author.
Rene’s British /Canadian Naturalization Certificate was in his possession in Europe to obtain his Passport but the document was later lost as it was replaced in 1916. Libraries and Archives Canada: Citizenship Registration Records for Montreal Circuit Court 1851-1945.
Military documents in possession of author.
Many original documents of French ancestors are available online via the 92 of the 95 departmental archives in France.
To make it easy for you to use these wonderful public resources, I have compiled the links into a single pdf document, which you can download from this link: Master copy 10 12 13 Les Archives départementales en France.
Also included are maps so that you can figure out which modern department holds the historic records you need to find.
One of the most experienced researchers in the Quebec Family History Society is also one of the group’s most generous members. Jacques Gagné, who has researched the records of the Protestant churches of Quebec, Scandinavian genealogy, the Huguenots, Loyalists, Acadians, Aboriginal families and other ancestral groups, has recently turned his attention to France. Now he is willing to train other members of the QFHS to research their ancestors in France. This is a unique opportunity, not only for anyone with French Canadian roots, but for those who want to expand their genealogical skills and to give back to the genealogical community.
Jacques has compiled links to the archives of 92 out of 95 departments of France into a single pdf document, which you can download from this link: Master copy 10 12 13 Les Archives départementales en France. Also included are maps so that you can figure out which modern department holds the historic records you need to find.
Updated dates: Jacques will be volunteering at the QFHS library on May 20 and May 23, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you are interested in researching your ancestors in France, come to the library on one of those days to learn how. Once you have experience in researching your own ancestors, Jacques hopes you will be willing to pass on that knowledge to others.
L’association Quebec Family History Society, à Pointe -Claire dans l’ouest de l’ile de Montréal, a une groupe de recherche francophone en plus de toutes les activités orientées vers les recherches anglophones. M Jacques Gagné, un membre de la société et chercheur chevronné du côté de la recherche française, nous offre quelques mots et conseils:
” En plus de posséder un des plus grands dépôt de revues et publications anglophone des iles britanniques et du Canada, à part de celui du BAnQ sur Viger à Montréal, la société reçoit plusieurs publication en français. Le plus importantes étant:
>> Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française
>> L’Ancêtre de la Société de généalogie de Québec
>> L’Entraide généalogique de la Société de généalogie des Cantons de l’est
Les membres de la QFHS qui désirent devenir des experts en recherches d’ancêtres de France, devraient commencer par les publications à la QFHS.
C’est en fait comment j’ai débuté il y a plusieurs années”
La QFHS a même un spécial pour nouveaux membres jusqu’en juillet 2014
The Quebec Family History Society in Pointe-Claire (West Island of Montreal) has a wonderful library that is opened quite a few hours a week, and from which members from out of town may even borrow books by mail.
Jacques Gagné, one or our members for quite a few years, our local French research expert supports the France Research Group at
QFHS. Here’s his two cents worth about starting some French Quebec research:
”Periodicals at QFHSOver the years under the leadership of Claire Lindell, Mary Plawutsky, Daphne Phillips, Bruce Henderson, Ted Granger, Diane Bissegger, the QFHS Library has been a primary repository of periodicals from the British Isles and from most provinces of Canada.To my knowledge, only the Archives nationales du Québec on Viger has a larger collection of genealogical magazines.This article will only address the aspect of research tips dealing with France.
Three periodicals in Québec, all three kept at the QFHS Library are superior to others in regard to the French Canadians and Acadians;
Others revues (periodicals) dealing with the French Canadians and Acadians are also stored within the shelves of the QFHS Library.
QFHS members who wish of becoming experts in the research process of ancestors in France, should begin their expertise journey with the French language periodicals kept at the QFHS Library.
This is basically how I started a number of years back.”
The QFHS is even having a new-members special until July 2014
No, it’s not just to get your attention, Archives publiques libres is a group of people who believe archives should be free to search to all, and that, by the same token, if you put your information online to share with others, it is not so a company grabs your info to sell to others.
Follow them on Facebook
On their webpage, they explain their position, list actions they take or that we can take to maintain a genalogical world accessible to all…
I really appreciate their inventory of free genealogical resources: simply click on maps and access lists fromFrance and around the world. You can also find press releases, tips for using internet etc.
Brigham Young University in Utah offers several free online genealogy courses, including one about France. While this course is not for credit, it is a great way to learn something new at no cost. To review the lessons, you must first enroll online. You will then work at your own speed and choose the time and place. When you have completed the course, you will have learned how to identify the place of origin of your ancestors, explained why you must analyze your information, and discussed some French emigration groups and sources to help you find your French ancestor’s place of origin.
A list of courses, including the French course, is available on BYU’s Independent Study web page.