France Church History

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Church History

Research procedures and genealogical sources are different for each religion. It is helpful to understand the historical events that led to the creation of records, such as parish registers, which may list your family.

In France most people have been Roman Catholics but a few other religions have existed for many centuries, namely the Huguenots, Waldensians, and Mennonites.

Roman Catholics

Roman Catholicism has been the predominant faith of France since the 6th century. However, several reform movements gained footholds in France, especially among people in Alsace-Lorraine and in Montbéliard, near Germany and Switzerland.

Protestants (Huguenots)

Beginning in 1541 some of the people of France accepted the teachings of John Calvin. Religious wars with the Roman Catholics began as early as 1562 and resulted in turmoil throughout France.

The first large migration of French Protestants (Huguenots) began after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes granted religious freedom. Many Protestant records date from that year. They are arranged by town or province, depending on the denomination. But this religious freedom did not last and the peace was punctuated with occasional clashes. In 1685 the revocation of the Edict of Nantes removed all religious freedom and caused Protestants to flee by the thousands to foreign nations. Many Protestant records were destroyed.

The Protestants who could not leave France became Catholics, renounced Protestantism, and had their children baptized in the Catholic church. Converted Protestants are listed in Catholic records, especially after 1685. Some of these "converts" later left France and can be found in the Protestant records of another nation.

During the eighteenth century there were some revivals of Protestantism with various expressions of intolerance, but in 1787 Louis XVI signed the Edict of Tolerance, which again granted freedom of religion to Protestants.

For a history of the Huguenots see:

  • Roche, O.J.A. The Days of the Upright: the Story of the Huguenots. New York, NY, USA: Clarkson N. Potter, 1965. (Family History Library book 944 K2ro; not on microfilm.) Text in English.


The Waldensians were founded by Pierre Valdo (or Waldo) at the end of the twelfth century in Lyon. The movement soon spread to Germany, Flanders, and Aragon. In 1545 hundreds of French Waldensians were executed in the towns of Cabrières and Merindol. Persecutions caused Waldensians to move as far away as Uruguay and Argentina. A branch of this group in Merindol, France, publishes the:

  • La Valmasque: Bulletin de l'Association d'Etudes Vaudoises et Historiques du Luberon (Bulletin of the association for the study of the Waldensian history of Luberon). (FHL book 944.92 H25v; not on microfilm.) The address of the association is:
La Muse, BP No. 4
84360 Merindol


The Mennonites (or Anabaptists) have existed in France since 1523 and are found mostly in Alsace-Lorraine and in the former principality of Montbéliard. For more information about their history see—

Séguy, Jean. Les assemblées Anabaptistes-Mennonites de France (Mennonite congregations of France). Paris, France: Mouton, 1977. (FHL book 944.38 F2sj; not on microfilm.)

Sommer, Pierre. Historique des assemblées (History of the congregations) [France]: Association française d'Histoire Anabaptiste-Mennonite, 1982. (FHL book 944.38 F2s; not on microfilm.)

See also the "Minorities" section.