French ancestors – Civil registration

Civil status records (Les Registres de l’État Civil Français) are probably the best place to start your search.

These records of birth, marriage and death, created in duplicate, are held in an area’s town hall (Mairie).When they are 100 years old, one set of records is sent to the departmental archives. Birth and marriage records are closed to the public for 75 years, although some can be accessed if you produce documents to prove you’re related to the person you’re researching.

Firstly, you must search the decennial tables. Starting in 1793, alphabetical indexes of the births, marriages and deaths are split into 10-year periods, and tell you the date of the registration of the event (not the actual event date, usually a few days before).

Once you know the date, you should be able to locate the full records. If you write to the town hall (or departmental archives) first, with relevant details, officers should be able to search the tables and locate the certificates.

The civil status records cover the entire French population and are well preserved. Generally, the later the record, the more information it will hold, often mentioning other life events linked to that individual.

Birth certificates show place of birth, name and sex, and the parents’ names in full, plus the mother’s maiden name. Details of the godmother and godfather may also appear.

Marriage certificates are the most comprehensive. They include the names of the married couple, their parents and witnesses, addresses and occupations (depending on the time period).

In 90 per cent of cases, weddings occur in the bride’s birthplace. Death certificates contain the names of the deceased and their spouse, age, occupation, address and witnesses. Older records may only show the deceased’s name, and date and place of death.

French ancestors – notaries' records
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