France History

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Effective family research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land and military documents that mention your family.

Your ancestors will become more interesting to you if you also use histories to learn about the events in which they may have participated. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great grandparents were married.

History[edit | edit source]

The Kingdom of France emerged as one of the successor nations of the empire of Charlemagne in the 9th century. Conquered by Rome in the 1st century BC Celtic tribes of Gaul gradually adopted Latin speech and Roman law and developed a distinct Gallo-Roman civilization.

Modern France developed after the renaissance, and finally emerged after experiencing numerous internal and external political and religious wars and boundary shifts with its neighbors Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. Religious Persecution led to a loss of records for Protestants particularly during the period 1685-1787.

Contributing to the social unrest and financial ruin in France were the wars waged by Louis XIV. The special privileges granted to the nobility and other favored groups were one of the causes of the French Revolution of 1789-1794. The French republican form of government followed the example of the American Colonies, but in the next century reverted to a form of monarchy on four occasions. The First Republic became the First Empire under Napoleon I in 1804. However the civil registration system begun in 1792 was eventually to spread throughout the world as a model of organization for governments. Following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the Third Republic was established and lasted until 1940.

After World War II the Provisional Government of the French Republic was established to create the constitutional structure of the Fourth French Republic. This government collapsed in 1958 over the Algiers putsch and politicians called on Charles de Gaulle to form a new government with him as Prime Minister. This marked the creation of the Fifth Republic which is still in force and the beginning of the end of France's role as a colonial power.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Some key dates and events in the history of France are as follows:

1334: Earliest Roman Catholic parish register in France begins.

1348: Black plague kills one third of the French population.

1572: Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre. Many Protestants flee France.

1579: Parish register of marriages and deaths required.

1598: Edict of Nantes (Protestants granted religious freedom).

1632: French begin settling Quebec and Acadia (Canada).

1685: Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which causes many Protestants to leave France.

1722: First wave of settlers begins moving from Alsace-Lorraine to colonies in the Banat (Austria-Hungary, in southeastern Europe).

1755: French Acadians (Canadians) deported by the British.

1764: First wave of settlers begins moving from Alsace-Lorraine to colonies in Russia and the Ukraine.

1787: Edict of Tolerance grants freedom of religion to the Protestants and Jews.

1789: French revolution. Half a million refugees flee.

1792: French civil registration started.

1808: Jews required to take a fixed family surname in addition to their given name.

1870: Franco-Prussian War. Alsace-Lorraine annexed by Germany.

The Family History Library has some published provincial and departmental histories for France. You can find histories in the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalog under one of the following:






Several encyclopedias give good summaries of the history of France. Books with film numbers can be ordered through local family history centers. They may also be found in major research libraries. The following is only one of many historical books available:

Guizot, François Pierre Guillaume. History of France. Eight Volumes. New York, NY, USA and London, England: Co-operative Publication Society, 1869. (Family History Library book 944 H2g; film 1573087 item 3 [v. 1]; film 1181964 [v. 2-7]; film 1181965 [v. 8].) Text in English.

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They give details about the history of the area, the population, immigration, wars and destruction, pestilences, natural disasters, names of some of the residents, social life in early times, traditions, invasions, and religious persecutions. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on local history or other relatives may provide important clues for locating the ancestor. The bibliography may also mention other authors or earlier histories important for the area.

In addition, local histories should be studied and enjoyed for the background information they can provide about your family's lifestyle and the community and environment in which your family lived.

For some localities, there may be more than one history. Although relatively few local histories have been published for towns or departments in France, a careful search for available histories of your ancestor's locality is worthwhile.

The Family History Library has some local histories for towns in France. Similar histories are often available at major public and university libraries and archives.

Bibliographies that list local histories are available for some provinces or departments of France. These are listed in the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:






Calendar Changes[edit | edit source]

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar in common use in the world today. It is a correction of the Julian calendar, which had been in use since 46 AD. Leap years had been miscalculated in the Julian calendar. By 1582, the calendar was ten days behind the solar year.

In France, the last day of the Julian calendar was 9 Dec 1582. At that time, ten days were omitted to bring the calendar in line with the solar year. The day after 9 December 1582 was 20 December 1582.

During the years 1793 to 1805, another calendar was introduced. This calendar was based on the founding of the French Republic and used a system of months unrelated to the regular calendar. See the French Republican Calendar.