French History and Records for Genealogy – FamilySearch July 5, 2020

I saw this on FamilySearch yesterday – French History and Records for Genealogy – FamilySearch: A lot more information in the link and worth a read. I have some French Canadian/Acadian roots on my maternal grandmother’s side.

July 5, 2020  – by  Sunny Morton

Over the centuries, France’s government and culture has changed many times. These changes often affected record keeping. The good news is that historical change in France sometimes resulted in the creation of valuable French genealogy records. Here are a few examples of how French history may have affected records kept about your ancestors in France.

The Catholic Church and Parish Records

For hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church played an influential role in French history—and record keeping. Clovis I, considered the founder of modern France, converted to Catholicism around the year 500. The church and the French monarchy mutually supported each other; the Roman Catholic Church in France became a state church.


In 1539, King Francis I signed the Ordinance of Villers Cotterêts, which required that priests keep registers of baptisms. Forty years later, another law mandated that they keep marriage and burial records too. Louis XIV further required that copies of parish vital records be created, beginning in 1667, which increased chances that at least one copy would survive in future years.

These records now sometimes make it possible to trace your French ancestry back to the 1600s or even the 1500s. They typically include details that help genealogists reconstruct family trees. For example, baptismal registers typically included an infant’s name and baptismal date (usually within two days of birth) and parents’ names. Marriage registers also identified the parents of the bride and groom and perhaps a deceased spouse (for later marriages) and explained familial relationships between brides and grooms who were related to each other. Burial records named the surviving spouse or parents of the deceased.

Learn more about finding and using French church records.

The French Revolution and Civil Registration

The French Revolution, which started in 1789, upended the monarchy and the Catholic Church’s political power. In 1792, a new law transferred responsibility for official vital record keeping from parish priests to new civil offices. Local civil registration officials gathered registers from local churches and began recording new births, marriages, and deaths. Parish priests continued to maintain registers for church use, so, from this point forward, you may be able to find both civil registration and parish records for your French ancestors.


The earliest French civil registration records weren’t very detailed, but eventually they included quite a bit of genealogical information. Birth records named children and identified their sex, birthdate and place, parents’ names (including mother’s maiden surname), and more. Marriage records identified the bride and groom and gave their birth information, details about their parents, identities of four witnesses, and sometimes more. In death records, you’ll generally find at least the decedent’s name, death date and place, age at death, birthplace, and parents’ names.

Learn more about French civil registration.

Censuses and a Nation in Transition

France was slow to conduct nationwide censuses. Citizens feared that being enumerated would lead to greater taxation and forced military service. A scattering of local censuses were taken in the late 1700s, but what survives is mostly statistical data. Napoleon ordered the first full census in 1801. Though some censuses followed, logistical issues and political upheaval prevented a successful nationwide, every-name census until 1836.




About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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