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Before doing family history research in France, you will need to find:
- The actual name of an ancestor
- The date of birth, marriage, and death (can be estimated)
- The place of origin
- The religion of an ancestor
- Determine the actual name of an ancestor
A serious problem for some researchers is to determine the actual name of their immigrant ancestor. Some ancestors in their eagerness to be assimilated into American culture, traded their difficult foreign names for American names. This occured often with given names and to a lesser extent with surnames.
Determine the date of birth, marriage, and death
If you cannot find an exact date, you may estimate dates based on other information. You need at least the approximate year of an event. You may use standard genealogical approximation. From a marriage date, you can estimate that a man was married at age 25 and a woman at age 21. You can also estimate that a first child was born one year after the parent's marriage and that subsequent children were born every 2 years after that.
Determine the place of origin
In France, most records used in family history research are kept on a town or parish level. Therefore the exact town of origin must be known before research can begin. Most of the time, the place of origin in France is found in sources created in the country of immigration. These records should be searched for the ancestor, possible relatives, and other associated persons. French place names may often be mispelled in American sources. Difficult names were shortened and diacritic marks ommitted. A gazetter, which is defined as a geographical dictionary, is an essential tool for identifying places. Look up your place name in the gazetteer to be sure that it is spelled correctly. As mentioned French place names are often mispelled in American sources. If you still cannot determine correct spelling of your locality even after you searched the gazetteers and the Internet, please post your query on FamilySearch Forums and one of our research consultants will be happy to evaluate your research problem.
Determine the religion of an ancestor
Civil Registration started in France in 1792. Prior to that time the records were kept by church parishes or Jewish congregations. The records of different religions were kept separately. If you are not sure of your ancestor's religion, start by searching Roman-Catholic records. Catholicism was the dominant religion in France. Not every village in France had its own parish. Often, several smaller villages belonged to one parish. Use a gazetteer to determine the proper record keeping jurisdiction.
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