Using France Online Department Archives
- 1 French or English
- 2 Accepting Reuse Conditions
- 3 The Search Entry Form
- 4 Types of Indexes Available
- 5 Browsing Images: Searching Records That Have Not Been Indexed
- 6 Reading the French in these records:
- 7 Other Records in the Archives
Many important French records are available digitized and online in the archives of each department, (similar to a county). The vast majority of the genealogy you do will need only two of these record groups: registres paroissiaux (parish registers) and registres d'état civil (civil registration). Civil registration and parish registers will be the main, if not the only, records you will need to identify your ancestors for many generations. This link will take you to a clickable map linking to each department archives.
French or English
- When the page first opens, you will have the option to read it in French or English, found in the banner at the top of the page:
Selecting English will provide an imperfect, but usable translation. One interesting imperfection is that it frequently translates "registres d'état civil" as "marital status", when it really means "civil registration".
- Next, click on "Archives en ligne" or "Archives numérisées" (meaning online or digital archives).
- Find the icon or link labeled d'état civil et registres paroissiaux or civil status and church (or parish) records.
Accepting Reuse Conditions
At some point, you might be asked to accept the reuse conditions of the site. Here are the French and English versions of the license agreement;
The Search Entry Form
- Next, locate the search fields where you can input the parameters of your search. Here are some fairly typical search entry forms, shown both in French and English. Familiarize yourself with the French terms. There are just a few to learn, but knowing them will help you throughout your research.
- The translator can be a little clunky. The three terms that are poorly translated here, are:
- (a) In the example on the top left, "Exacte", which in this case means that you can enter an "exact" date of the record you want,
- (b) In the example on the top right, "Commune," which means "town or community,"
- (c) In the example on the bottom right, "Commune" is mistakenly translated as "joint".
- When working with the awkward translations typical of online translators, remember the basics of what you are searching for. Then, you should be able to identify the mistranslations. You will need to select a commune or canton (locality), a time period, and a type of record. Study the search form and figure out where on the page you should select a place. If it has a weird name like "common" or "joint", switch back to the original French and verify that the field is asking for the "commune" or a "canton".
- The actual record titles (baptism, etc.) are usually translated correctly, and the French versions are very similar to English.
Searching Indexes by Name, Place and Date
Searching Indexes by Location and Time Period
Watch for the availability of drop-down lists, particularly those that have lists of the communes available. In this example, the small arrows at the far right of the search field indicate that a drop-down list is provided.
Types of Indexes Available
1. On the left is an illustration of the bottom half of one of the search entry forms above. It has fields for entering the ancestor's name. For a few departments, these records have been indexed (usually by volunteers). An index can be tremendously helpful, but is subject to transcription errors or reading errors. If you see these name fields in the search form for a department, that signals that the records are indexed.
2. Some indexing has been done by other organizations. FamilySearch Historical has a few indexed records and will be adding to the collection over time.
3. Ancestry.com has many more indexed French department records. Although it is a subscription website, it can be used free of charge at a Family History Center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
4. Finally, and most important because it is always available, the civil registration records have their own ten-year index by decade in French called "tables décennales".
5. These indexes are simple to read. Names and dates need little or no translation. The names of months are so similar to English that you will easily recognize them. The type of record is named at the top: naissances (births), mariages (marriages), and déces (deaths). For Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, the titles will be in German sometimes, as this area sometimes belonged to Germany: geburten (births). Heiraten (marriages), and toten (deaths). This particular index is labeled in German, "Geburt", in the top right corner.
The Republican Calendar
The French Republican calendar was introduced during the French Revolution to replace the Gregorian calendar. This calendar was used for twelve years, from 24 October 1793 to 31 December 1805. If you see the following months, you are dealing with the Republican or Jacobin calendar: Vendémiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire, Nivôse, Pluviôse, Ventôse, Germinal, Floréal, Prairial, Messidor, Thermidor, Fructidor. A wiki article, French Republican Calendar, provides conversion charts for changing the dates you find to the more familiar Gregorian calendar. Sometimes a departmental site provides a calendar conversion application.
Browsing Images: Searching Records That Have Not Been Indexed
Since only a few of the departments have records indexed by name, this is the most common way to access the records--browsing the images page by page.
1. Selecting a commune:
In the section above, "The Search Entry Form", you have seen two types of search entry forms under "Searching Indexes by Location and Time Period". Below are a few more variations. All records are organized first by location, and then by record type and time period. So selecting the commune you want to search is the first skill you need to navigate these records. Here are a few more typical search forms you will see:
Notice that this step really only needs one French term: "Commune". No matter which format you find in your chosen department, your task is to get to your chosen commune. If the website does not provide a drop down list, or alphabetic letter links to lists, or some readily available list of communes, you can find a list in Wikipedia under "Communes of___________" or links to a list on the Wiki page for the department.
2. Choosing a range of records by type and time period:
When you use the search form or click on the given link to the commune you need, you will next come to a list of the available records for that commune. Look for the time period, the specific records, and the link you click on to get to them. Here are some typical lists:
3. Using the viewer to read the actual records:
After these steps, you will arrive at the actual digital copies of the records, which look like this:
- The small images at the bottom are clicked to move to other pages.
- At the left are controls for enlarging the image.
- There are a variety of tool icons at the bottom right which will allow you to rotate the image, brighten it, print it, etc.
Reading the French in these records:
- It's easier than you think! You do not have to be fluent in French to use these records, as there is only a limited vocabulary used in them. By learning a few key phrases, you will be able to read them adequately. Here are some resources for learning to read French records.
- There is a three-lesson course in reading French Records:
- For more instruction on using these records, see:
Other Records in the Archives
Civil registration and parish registers will be the main, if not the only, records you will need to identify your ancestors for many generations. However, departmental archives contain other records that can expand your information about them, such as military, notarial, and land records. You can find the entire collection by clicking on "Archives en ligne" or "Archives numérisées". Usually, the holdings of the archives are offered with a display of icons, like those pictured below. Once you select one of these other records, the search entry form, selection of records and time period, and film reader will be very similar to what you have just learned.