I saw this on FamilySearch yesterday – French History and Records for Genealogy – FamilySearch: https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/french-records-history/. A lot more information in the link and worth a read. I have some French Canadian/Acadian roots on my maternal grandmother’s side.
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.
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.