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France Archives and Libraries
Archives collect and preserve original documents of organizations. These documents include government and church records. Libraries normally collect published sources such as books, maps, and microfilms. This section describes the major repositories of genealogical and historical records and sources for France. When one of these institutions is referred to elsewhere in this outline, return to this section to obtain the address.
If you plan to visit one of these repositories, contact the organization and ask for information about their collection, hours, services, and fees.
Although the records you need may be in an archive or library in France, the Family History Library has filmed over half of the vital records of France. A microfilm copy may be available in Salt Lake City or in its family history centers.
France has three major types of genealogical repositories:
- Departmental archives
- Town registrars
- Other libraries, networks, and archives
In France each department has its own archive [Archives départementales] that is separate from those of the national government. Most French records of genealogical value are kept at these archives. The departmental archives serve as repositories for local records. Their collections include:
- Civil registration birth, marriage, and death records.
- Church records (before 1792)
- Census records
- Some notarial records
- Military conscription records
The departmental archives of France are open to the public. They are usually located in the largest town of the department. The archivists or staff members will answer general correspondence inquiries, such as those about the availability of records, but they do not have time to do research for you. They do not make photocopies of records. All departmental archives have a reading room in which researchers can do their own research. You may want to hire a researcher through a nearby genealogical society to search records at the departmental archives. See the "Societies" section.
Copies of civil registers that are more than 100 years old are deposited at the departmental archives, except in extremely large towns, which have their own municipal archives.
Inventories, Registers, Catalogs
Most departmental archives have inventories and guides that describe their collections. If possible, study these inventories or guides before you visit an archive so that you can use your time more effectively. A bibliography of inventories and guides from each department is included in:
France. Direction des Archives. État des inventaires des archives départementales, communales et hospitalières au 1er janvier 1983 (Report on archive inventories of departments, communities, and hospitals). Two Volumes. Paris, France: Archives nationales, 1984. (FHL book 944 A3fan 1984; not on microfilm.)
Some of these inventories and guides are available at the Family History Library, at public or university libraries, or through interlibrary loan. These types of records are listed in the Place search of the Family History Library Catalog under—
- FRANCE - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
- FRANCE - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES - INVENTORIES, REGISTERS, CATALOGS
- FRANCE, [DEPARTMENT] - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES - INVENTORIES, REGISTERS, CATALOGS
More recent inventories may be available only at the departmental archives where the collection is continually updated. The archive inventories, however, are not always up to date. The person in charge of the reading room usually knows of records that may have been found recently. Inquire about other available civil or parish register collections not listed in the inventories.
A directory of French departmental archive addresses is found on pages 157-60 of the International Directory of Archives. (See a description of the directory at the end of this section.)
Original local records of births, marriages, and deaths created by a town registrar from 1792 to the present are usually found at the civil registration office [bureau de l'état civil] in the town hall [mairie]. However, the most recent hundred years are confidential. Birth and marriage certificates will be issued only to direct-line descendants who submit a written request. Obtaining death certificates for people who have died within the last hundred years is usually not a problem.
First check the Family History Library Catalog for records that may already be microfilmed. If they are not at the library, your options are to visit the town, hire a researcher, or write.
Clerks at local civil registration offices are busy and are increasingly reluctant to help family history researchers. Clerks usually deposit duplicates of records before the last hundred years at the departmental archive. They expect researchers to use the departmental archive whenever possible. If you cannot visit, you may want to hire a researcher through a nearby genealogical society to search the records for you. See the "Societies" section.
See the library's French Letter-Writing Guide for details about writing to the civil registration office for certificates. Limit requests to registrars to one or two certificates.
Other Libraries, Networks, and Archives
The Genealogical Library [Bibliothèque généalogique] in Paris has a name index, genealogical books, and genealogical periodicals from all parts of France. There is a correspondence service that has a limit of three requests per letter (20 francs per request) plus costs for photocopies and postage. Instructional classes for the beginner are also offered. The first visit at this library is free; thereafter a yearly membership fee of 220 French francs is required.
3 rue de Turbigo
Minitel is a French on-line computer network service connected by telephone lines. Minitel includes several databases and services of interest to family history researchers. Researchers around the world who have personal computers, Minitel software (which is free), and a modem can gain access. Users are charged a fee based on their connect time. The service is available twenty-four hours a day.
Minitel includes French telephone directories (searched department by department or by city), a computer mailbox, lists of genealogical societies, marriage indexes, advice and addresses useful for genealogists, and other services. Their computer query file is a compiled source and relies on the opinions of the people who answer. Wherever possible, the answers found in a computer query file should be verified using original records.
French genealogical periodicals give additional information about Minitel's databases and about other services useful to genealogists.
The Minitel address in the United States is:
- Minitel Services Company
888 7th Avenue, 28th Floor
New York, NY 10106-1301
Minitel will mail you free information and a diskette for installing the software on your computer. The software and the installation are free. The charges will be made to your American Express, MasterCard, or Visa™ bank card number, which you provide when you sign up for the program.
Several American computer networks also have genealogical bulletin boards. These allow researchers to make genealogical queries that may be answered by other network users. Elsewhere in the same network, specialists can give brief answers to genealogical reference questions. The networks that offer this service include:
- America Online
Public Library of Information
In Paris, the Public Library of Information [Bibliothèque publique d'information] has a collection of 300,000 volumes and 2,400 periodicals. Genealogy is well represented. This is a self-service library, and there is no entry fee. The library is closed on Tuesdays.
Géopatronymeis a computerized surname file available in the Public Library of Information. It maps the departments of France where a particular surname is found and the frequency of that surname. The search is free. Following a search on Géopatronyme, you can make a Minitel search in the telephone directories to obtain specific names and addresses in a given department. The Public Library of Information will not answer research requests by mail. The address for visitors is:
- Bibliothèque publique d'information
Centre Georges Pompidou
Miscellaneous Archives and Libraries
http://www.archives-lyon.fr/ The Archives of Lyon website. (in French)
Les Archives d'Outre-Mer (Overseas Archives)
29 Chemin du Moulin de Testas
13090 Aix en Provence
Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library)
58 rue de Richelieu
75084 Paris Cedex 02
Archives Militaires(Military Archives)
Château de Vincennes
94304 Vincennes Cedex
Archives Nationales (National Archives)
11, rue des Quatre-Fils
75141 Paris 3e
Archives des Affaires étrangères(Foreign Affairs Archives)
5 et 6 boulevard Louis-Barthou
44035 Nantes Cedex
Municipal Libraries. There are 163 towns with municipal libraries listed on pages 160-70 of the International Directory of Archives (listed next).
Directory of Archives
The following directory contains addresses of many important French archives:
- International Council on Archives. International Directory of Archives = Annuaire international des archives. München, Germany; London, England; New York, NY, USA; Paris, France: Saur, 1992. Archivum; Volume 38. (FHL book 020.5 Ar25 v. 38; not on microfilm.) Text in French.