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Military records identify individuals who served in the military or who were eligible for service. Most young men were required to serve in or register for military service in France. Evidence that an ancestor actually served may be found in family records, civil registrations, biographies, censuses, probate records, military conscription records, and church records.
Some French military records begin as early as the 1500s. They may give information about an ancestor's military career, such as promotions, places served, pensions, and conduct. In addition, these records may include information about his age, birthplace, residence, occupation, physical description, and family members.
The records you will find include:
- Conscription records (in the 1800s).
- Muster rolls.
- Personnel files.
- Regimental files.
- Lists of officers
- Pension records.
Many of these records have been centralized at the Military Archives in Vincennes, but the conscription records are kept at the departmental archives. The Family History Library has not filmed military records, except for a few conscription records in the department of Bas-Rhin from 1817 to 1856.
Although military records have genealogical information, they are rarely used in French research because they are difficult to access and few are indexed. Military records are kept confidential for 120 years from the soldier's birth. Other sources (such as church records and civil registration) are more easily available and contain much of the same information.
To use French military records, you will have to determine the soldier's specific regiment or ship the sailor served on. If you do not know this information, it may be possible to learn which units were raised in the area where your ancestor lived. To do this, you must know at least the district [arrondissement] where the individual was living when he was of age to serve in the military.
Military Records of Genealogical Value
Military censuses or conscription records may help determine where a person was from. They are not indexed. They are compiled year by year and listed alphabetically in each locality for men who are age 19 and 20. The towns are grouped in cantons and districts. Each department has several districts. Because of this, a search of conscription records can be time consuming. You will need your relative's birth year and birth department before hiring somebody to search conscription records in departmental archives.
Records of French troop assignments [contrôles de troupes] start in 1716. They are arranged by regiment name and the date each company in the regiment was raised. The list shows where the company was raised, commanders, and number of men. It cites the archive number of the company's records and the types of information in the records (such as names of parents and dates and places of birth). Troop assignments from 1716 to 1789 are listed in:
Corvisier, André. Les contrôles des troupes de l'Ancien Régime (Troop assignments of the Ancien Régime). Four Volumes. [S.n.]: Concours du C.N.R.S., 1970. (FHL book 944 M23c; not on microfilm.) Volume 2 infantry; Volume 3 cavalry, artillery, militia, French guards, Swiss troops, disabled companies, and colonial navy; Volume 4 indexes by name of the regiment, commanders, or company.
The military archives in Vincennes have not been microfilmed. The archivists occasionally answer letters, but you must know the exact name of the person, time period, rank, and regiment or ship. Do not expect to obtain much information from before 1800.
The following books help you locate French military records:
France. Archives nationales. Archives de la marine, série B service général (Navy archive index). Paris, France: S.E.V.P.E.N., 1969. (FHL book 944 A3fn; film 962,225 item 2.) Alphabetical index to places, names, subjects, and ships mentioned in subseries B 1-3.
France. Ministère de la Marine. Officiers civils, 1645-1817 (Index of civilian officers attached to the French navy). Paris, France: Chadwyck-Healey France, 1988. (FHL fiche 6002208.)
Bodinier, Gilbert. Dictionnaire des officiers de l'armée royale qui ont combattu aux Etats-Unis pendant la guerre d'Indépendance 1776-1783 (Officers in the Royal French Army who fought in the United States during the American War for Independence, 1776-1783). Vincennes, France: Service historique de l'armée de terre, 1983. (FHL book 944 M2b; not on microfilm.)
Les combattants français de la guerre américaine, 1778-1783 (French soldiers in the American Revolution). Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1969. Originally published as: United States Congress. 58th Congress, Second Session. Senate. Document number 77. (FHL Q book 944 M2cf; film 547,088 item 5.) Includes index.
France was involved in many military actions, including—
1618-48: Thirty Years War. Many records destroyed in eastern France. Severe devastation in German areas.
1689-97: King William's War. In England, it was called the War of the Grand Alliance. Click here for more information.
1703-13: Queen Anne's War. Click here for more information.
1744-48: King George's War. Click here for more information.
1756-63: Seven Years War (French and Indian War). Britain consolidates colonial power at the expense of France. Click here for more information.
1778-83: French intervention in the American Revolution.
1792-1800: French Revolutionary Wars. France invaded Germany and Italy.
1800-15: Napoleonic Wars surge back and forth across Europe.
1853-56: Crimean War. France, Britain, Turkey fight Russia.
1870-71: Franco-Prussian War. Alsace-Lorraine lost.
1914-18: World War I. France regains Alsace- Lorraine.
For more historical information about the French military campaigns, use—
Dupuy, R. Earnest, and Trevor N. Dupuy. Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. to the Present. (Revised Edition) London, England and Sidney, Australia: Jane's Publishing, 1980. (FHL book 355.033 D929e; not on microfilm.) Text in English.
Additional military histories are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under—
FRANCE - MILITARY HISTORY
FRANCE, [DEPARTMENT] - MILITARY HISTORY
FRANCE, [PROVINCE] (REGION) - MILITARY HISTORY
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