French Research

  • France shares borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Andorra and Spain. These borders have not always been fixed throughout history.
    • If you have ancestors from border regions, please start by researching the area's history and geography.
  • Le Havre on the English Channel and Marseille on the Mediterranean were important ports of departure.
    • Smaller ports include: Cherbourg, Bordeaux and Nantes.
    • Immigrants also traveled through other ports, such as Liverpool.
  • Most records will be in French. However, there are some exceptions.
    • Roman Catholic parish registers are typically in Latin.
    • Records from Alsace-Lorraine, may be in German.
    • Pre-1860 records from the southeaster parts of France may be in Italian.
  • Vital records are divided into two categories:
    • Civil registers (etat-civil)
      • Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1792.
      • Records less than 100 years old are typically found in registries at the local town hall.
      • Copies of civil registers older than 100 years are typically available from departmental archives.
      • Local town halls and archives both hold copies of 10-year indexes (tables decennales) of births, deaths, and marriages registered in the community.
      • Women are almost always recorded by their maiden surname, even after marriage.
    • Parish registers (registres paroissiaux)
      • Catholic registers begin in the mid-1600's in many areas. However, some 14th and 15th century records have survived.
      • Lutheran parish records date back to the early 1500s.
        • Many of these registers are located in municipal or departmental archives.
        • Records may be in French, Latin German, or Gothic script.
        • Some protestant records have been microfilmed by FamilySearch.
    • Most young men were required to register for military service. Recruitment records (registres matricules) date back to the 19th century.


  • French Genealogy is a French based blog which can keep you up-to-date on the French archive records online
  • Gallica: La presse quotidienne - France and French-speaking newspaper collection.
  • Geneanet