Genealogy, New France, Quebec, Research tips, Resources Outside of Montreal

Finding Ancestors in French Municipal Archives

The attached 43-page PDF addresses the Archives communales de France, also known as the Archives municipales de France. This is the second most important group of archives in France for tracing the families of New France and Acadia. The 95 Archives départementales de France are the number one source of information addressing French Canadians, Acadians, Franco Americans, Franco Ontarians and others. (See also, Researching Your French Ancestors Online, posted May 13, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/05/13/researching-your-french-ancestors-online/)

There are some 400 municipal archives. I have selected the 124 largest, including archives that offer online access to some files, or at least an online description of the contents.

In 1792, the Assemblée législative de France (The Legislative Assembly of France) took away the responsibility for issuing birth, marriage and death registers from the curés (priests) and gave these duties to local mairies (city halls). At about the same time, a new civil register of France was created addressing acts of birth, marriage, divorce and death. This register was named the Registre de l’état-civil, and the documents were issued by the city halls.

Subsequently, when many cities and towns created their own archives communales (municipal archives), these local municipal archives were assigned responsibility to safeguard the civil registers.

After the creation of the 95 Archives départementales de France, a great number of the local archives communales (municipal archives) turned over their actes de l’état-civil, or copies of these records, to the regional archives départementales. Other municipal archives did not do so. As a result, some of the files found in municipal archives of France can also be found in the regional archives départementales, while other dossiers cannot be found anywhere else.

The majority of genealogy societies in France work closely with their local archives communales. Many of these genealogy societies share the same building or adjacent building to the archives communales of their region.

Here is the link to the PDF: Archives communales de France – 2018-09-04 Rev

France, Genealogy

Researching Your French Ancestors 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.

Archives départementales de France – Revision – 2018-04-16