France Church Records
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For information about records for non-Christian religions in France, go to the Religious Records page.
Church records [registres paroissiaux] are excellent sources for information on names, dates, and places of baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Most persons who lived in France were recorded in a church record.
Records of births (baptisms), marriages, and deaths are commonly called "vital records" because critical events in a person's life are recorded in them. Church records are vital records made by priests. They are often referred to as parish registers or church books. They include records of births, christenings, marriages, and burials. Church records may also contain other information, lists, or documents.
Church records are crucial for pre-1792 research in France. Since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until 1792, church records are often the only sources of family information before this date. After 1792 Church records continued to be kept, but such records were usually not filmed because they are incomplete and less accurate than the civil registers.
For birth, death, and marriage records after 1792, see France Civil Registration - Vital Records.
- 1 Catholic Church
- 2 Protestant Church Records
- 3 Information Recorded in Church Registers
- 3.1 Baptisms (baptêmes)
- 3.2 Marriages (Mariages)
- 3.3 Burials (Sépultures)
- 3.4 Other Lists
- 4 Locating Church Records
- 5 Search Strategies
- 6 Websites
The Catholic churches in France were among the first to keep vital records. The Council of Trent in 1563 issued the first mandate that Roman Catholic parishes keep records of christenings. A later directive in 1579 required the keeping of marriage and death records. The churches in France did not always comply with this regulation. Many Catholic registers date from the mid-1600s, but a few date back to the 1500s. However, there are some earlier records, such as the parish registers of Givry (Saône-et-Loire) which go from 1334 to 1357 and the records of Roz Landrieux (Ille-et-Villaine) from 1451 to 1528. Records were kept in French or Latin.
Although many of the very early records may have been preserved, many parishes have gaps in their records, especially before 1736.
Protestant Church Records
See, France Huguenots.
Information Recorded in Church Registers
The information recorded in church books varied over time. The later records usually give more complete information.
The most important church records for genealogical research are baptism, marriage, and burial registers. Other helpful church records are marriage banns, marriage rehabilitations, and abjurations from Protestantism.
Catholic records are usually written in French or Latin. Protestant records in Alsace were often written in German. Some records from the area of Nice are in Italian. Local dialects may have affected the spelling of some names and other words in the church records. Some given names are common to some areas and unknown in others.
Catholic children were usually baptized within two days of birth. Some were given an emergency baptism [ondoyé] by the midwife when the child was in danger of death. Protestant children were usually baptized within a few weeks of birth.
Baptism registers usually give
- the infant's and parents' names,
- status of legitimacy,
- names of godparents,
- and the baptism date.
You may also find
- the child's birth date,
- the father's occupation,
- and the family's place of residence.
- Death information has sometimes been added as a note. Children who died at birth may be recorded only in the death records.
Earlier registers typically give less information, sometimes including only the child's and father's names and the date of the baptism. The mother's maiden surname may be missing, and even her given name may be omitted. At first only the baptism date was recorded, but in later years the birth date was given as well.
Marriage registers give
- the date of the marriage a
- the names of the bride and groom
- their parents or deceased spouse
- whether they were single or widowed
- the names and relationships of witnesses.
They often include other information about the bride and groom, such as
- their ages,
- sometimes birthplaces
Often a note is made whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage.
In cases of second and later marriages, they include
- the names of previous partners
- and their death dates.
Marriage banns (publications de mariage)
Marriage registers sometimes give the dates on which the marriage intentions were announced in addition to the marriage date. These announcements, called banns, gave opportunity for anyone to come forward who knew any reasons why the couple shouldn't be married. Engagements may be recorded in the marriage register. In some cities, such as Lyon, the notary who recorded the marriage contract is sometimes mentioned. Marriage banns do not always give the actual marriage date. However, hometown banns sometimes refer to a marriage place away from the bride's or groom's hometown.
Closely related people (consanguinité or affinité spirituelle) required special permission to marry [dispensation]. If a close relationship was discovered after marriage, a rehabilitation was required which granted the couple permission to stay married. Rehabilitations are often found in the marriage registers but more often at the diocesan archives. These were recorded like a marriage but sometimes twenty or thirty years after a marriage. Sometimes a chart showing the relationship can be found either in the parish registers or in the departmental archives record, series G.
Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person was buried. The burial usually took place within a few days of the death, in the parish where the person died. Burial registers give
- the name of the deceased
- the date and place of the burial
- place of residence
- name of the surviving spouse or parents, and
- sometimes birthplace are given.
Early death registers failed to record the age of the deceased and information about parents or spouse.
Some people, born and perhaps married before the keeping of vital records began in their area, may be recorded only in the burial records. These records may help fill in information when baptism or marriage records are lacking. Some children who died at birth are recorded only in the burial records (sometimes with a note that the child was baptized by the midwife).
Other church records include confirmation lists, lists of families, rental of a church bench, communion lists, and attendance at special meetings. Unusual calamities, such as torrential rains, flash floods, and fires, were also noted.
Abjurations from Protestantism (Abjurations)
During times of persecution, especially in 1685, some French Protestants were forced to renounce their religion and convert to the Roman Catholic Church. The records of their abjurations show the name, age, occupation, and residence. You may also identify parents, spouses, or children in some of these records.
Convent records (Registres des monastères, couvents, abbayes, évêchés)
Content: Names and genealogies of clergy and members of religious orders, record of clerical taxes, land records, wills, inheritance and judicial records of laity.
Locating Church Records
Sometime after the French Revolution, the parish registers that had been kept at each parish until 1792 became state property. These registers were turned over to departmental archives or town registrars. The local priests no longer have parish registers before 1792. The departmental archives will answer written inquiries regarding the whereabouts of the parish registers of a specific locality, but they will not research a name in them.
You must know the town where your ancestor lived to use pre-1792 parish registers at the departmental archives. You need the same information to contact a priest for help with church records written after 1792.
Your ancestor may have lived in a village that belonged to a parish in a nearby town. A village may have belonged to different parishes during different periods. Try searching adjacent parishes with older records when you cannot find relatives in the parish where you think they should be.
The practice of making duplicates of church books was introduced as law in 1667. The original was kept at the vicarage, and the duplicate was delivered to the clerk of the court [greffe du bailliage]. Although this law was not completely obeyed, most parishes did comply and made at least some copies. Another law reinforcing the requirement for parish register duplicates was passed in 1736. Sometime after the French Revolution, these duplicates and most of the original parish registers prior to 1792 were handed over to the departmental archives for safekeeping.
Departmental Archives Online
Most pre-1792 parish records are in departmental archives. You can access these collections by:
- Go to a clickable map at Archives en ligne (Archives on line)
- From the France Main Page, select the department of your ancestors to find the link to online records. You will also find links to available indexes for each department.
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has Catholic church records on microfilm from over 60 percent of the departments in France. This collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed. Most of these records are from the northern, eastern, and southern areas of France. Fewer are from central France. Most of the library's parish records come from years before 1792.
The specific holdings of the Family History Library are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog. You can determine whether the library has records for the locality your ancestor came from by checking the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalog.
In the FamilySearch Catalog, look under the name of the town where the parish was, not necessarily the town where your ancestor lived. Look under FRANCE, [DEPARTMENT], [TOWN] - CHURCH RECORDS.
If a record has been destroyed, was never kept, has not been microfilmed, or is restricted from public access, the Family History Library does not have a copy. New records are continually added to the Family History Library collection from numerous sources. Don't give up if records are not available yet. Check the FamilySearch Catalog again every year for the records you need.
Church records after 1792 in France are available by writing to the parish. Parishes will usually answer correspondence in French. However, most researchers have more success by contacting civil registration offices first. Your request may be forwarded if the records have been sent to another archive. To obtain the address of a given parish, write to the mayor of the town. The mayor will know if the parish office is in his town or in a nearby town. For help writing a letter in French, see French Letter Writing Guide.
Many genealogical societies in France are presently indexing the marriages before 1792. See France Societies for information about contacting them.
Andriveau Collection. For a description of indexes to parish registers of 25 large French and Belgian cities, see France Genealogy.
Some Catholic church records have partial indexes in larger towns, but the church records in smaller towns usually have no indexes.
Several French genealogical societies have begun indexing pre-1792 church records in their districts. For a list of indexed church records, chiefly marriages, see:
Recensement des dépouillements systématiques réalisés en France pour faciliter les recherches généalogiques (Inventory of the systematic extraction made in France to help genealogical researchers). Paris, France: Bibliothèque généalogique, 1988. (FHL book 944 D2r; not on microfilm.) List of where to obtain assistance and abstracts of community records.
Some of these societies are entering these marriage indexes on Minitel. See France Archives and Libraries for details.
GENLOR. The Genealogical Society of Lorraine has created a 600,000-name computer database of pre-1792 marriages in church records. It lists all marriages of the department of Vosges, about 95 percent of marriages in Meurthe-et-Moselle, about 50 percent of those in Meuse, and some for Moselle. GENLOR includes the groom's name, bride's name, parents, and date and place of marriage. The search is done one department at a time. GENLOR is on Minitel under "3628 GENLOR" (see France Archives and Libraries for details). If you want to write to request a search of this database, send the names of the bride and groom and the approximate year of the marriage, three international reply coupons, an envelope, and the name of the department to be searched to:
Madame la Secrétaire
54131 Saint Max Cedex
Effective use of church records includes the following strategies in addition to the Search Strategies elsewhere in this article.
- For records after 1792, search civil records thoroughly before searching church records.
- When you find the baptism record of a relative or ancestor, search for the baptisms of brothers and sisters. Note the towns where godparents lived—these may be additional places to search for church records.
- Then search for the marriage of the parents. Marriages are usually recorded in the bride's parish. The marriage record will often lead to the baptism records of the parents.
- You can estimate the ages of the parents and search for their baptism records.
- Then repeat the process for both the father and the mother.
- If earlier generations (parents, grandparents, etc.) do not appear in the records, search neighboring parishes.
- Search the death registers for all known family members. Death records may show children who were never recorded in baptism records.
- The following websites may also be helpful: