Civil registration records – births, marriages, deaths – called actes (acte de naissance, acte de marriage, acte de décès) in France are kept in the Town Hall, la Mairie, the centre of local government of each town. Large cities such as Paris, Lyon, Dijon, etc. each have a City Hall, l'Hôtel de Ville. The Hôtel de Ville de Paris is located on the right bank opposite Notre Dame de Paris and has been in existence since 1537.
In May, 1871, during the Paris Commune uprising, the whole place was burned to the ground. Something between five and eight million records, dating as far back as the 16th century, were destroyed. If your ancestors were from Paris and lived there any time from 1515-1860, their records – in some 5,000 bound registers - were destroyed. I will write more about this in the next post.
The First "Reconstitution" of the Lost Records
The city government of Paris has been busy for many years making noble efforts to “reconstitute” the lost information. Immediately after the fire, a group of researchers was gathered and given the job of finding ways to recreate the information. They worked for 25 years. Copying parish and religious records, they managed to make a nearly complete reconstruction of the information for the years from 1802 to 1860. Working backward, it became much more difficult to find alternatives to copy. Roughly, 2.7 million actes were copied, in this breakdown:
- 1802-1860 2.4 million actes
- 1700-1801 2.4 million actes
- 1600-1699 5000 actes
- 1550-1599 5 actes
The oldest acte is a 1550 baptism in Saint Merry, a church which still stands near the Pompidou Centre. (Saint Merry is a tiny quartier in the 4th arrondissement, where my office happens to be located. It is possible to stay in a small hotel built against the walls of the old church where that 1550 baptism took place and sleep in a room overwhelmed by flying buttresses. The bed shrinks under them like a frightened fly under the legs of a giant spider. Very atmospheric: http://www.hotel-saintmerry.com/)
The Second Reconstitution
In the middle of war, 1941, the Paris archives began another reconstitution effort to find all available information on all Paris citizens since the Middle Ages not all ready found by the first reconstitution.(I question the timing behind such an endeavor and think there is a story there, which I intend to suss out for a future post.) This brought 200,000 mentions of people, mostly from lawsuits and other judicial records. As people who went to court tended to be those with money, these records preserve the identities of the wealthy and noble more than of everyday folk.
The Laborde File
This is a transcription from the actes before the fire of every mention, however small, of artisans or craftsmen, and artists. The transcription was not finished before the fire, but the collection does have 70,000 records.
Surviving parish records
Scattered, small pockets of parish records also survive. Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas has an index to the years 1709 to 1725. Saint-Sulpice has a copy to all marriages from 1599 to 1604. Saint-Merry has all records for 1536. Saint-Eustache made its own reconstitution and has recreated records in 154 bound volumes covering the years 1551 to 1792.
Thus, if your Paris ancestor lived in the 19th century or was wealthy or an artist, or lived in one of the above parishes during the mentioned years, you might find documents on him or her. If not, it is very unlikely.
Getting to and Using the Archives de Paris:
18, boulevard Sérurier
Métro: Porte des Lilas (line 11)
Tel: 01 53 72 41 23
Tuesdays to Saturdays: 9.30 – 17.30
Saturdays: 9.30 – 17.00
The use of the archives is free, but you must register, showing a photo ID, and receive a card. This takes about 5 minutes. You must also put your coat and bags in a locker, which is also free, and carry your materials in a clear plastic bag, found in the locker. As you can see from the display in the entry, the main users are people doing genealogical research. Cameras are permitted. Copying and printing from microfilm is permitted. At the top of the stairs is a machine for buying a copying card.
The main genealogical sources are:
- The Reconstituted Actes – État Civil Reconstitué 1556-1859 - Births/baptisms, marriages, deaths. An alphabetical computerised index exists, referring to the rolls of microfilm. The microfilmed documents are in chronological order. They are pretty battered and broken, making them hard to thread in the microfilm readers.
- The Actes since the fire - État Civil – 1870-1902 - Births, marriages, deaths. There are ten-year tables or indexes, in alphabetical order. They refer to the actes, which are computerised and arranged by type, arrondissement, then date.
- Baptisms and Marriages – Actes de Catholicité des Paroisses – 1792 – 1899 - A bound volume serves as index to the original registers, arranged by parish and date. Special book holders enable these large volumes to be held in a vertical position.
- Wills – Successions – 1791-1959 - Tables or lists of deceased from 1791-1957 are arranged alphabetically and chronologically. Once the date is found, one must ask at the desk for the register of will filings (register de declaration de la succession) that covers that date. Information included there will be the names of the heirs and mentions of actes to prove the relationship.
- Military Censuses – Recensements militaire – 1800 – 2005 - Annual censuses, arranged first by arrondissement and canton, then alphabetically by name. The years 1871-1921 are on microfilm.
- Military recruitment records – Recrutement militaire – 1859-1937 - Arranged first by recruitment bureau, then by number. The years 1875-1930 are computerised.
- Electoral rolls – Listes électorales politiques 1848-2003 - Arranged chronologically by arrondissement. Many from the second half of the 19th century are missing. No women before 1946 (Grrrr). The years 1900to 1914 and 1919 are on microfilm.
- Funeral homes – Pompes funèbres – 1879-1920 and 1944-1972 - Arranged chronologically and then by name, showing the transport to the cemetery. There is an index. The original documents are available.
- Orphans and foundlings, Adoption records – Enfants assistés 1639-1917 - From 1742, there are annual alphabetic lists of children admitted to orphanages, giving a number. The number refers to the complete file on the person, which is computerised.
Some staff are very nice, some not so. A few speak English, but you should not count on an English speaker always being on duty. In the office behind the main desk on the ground floor, someone can help with difficult old documents. However, three weeks later, I am still waiting for the e-mail I was promised about a certain document. Finally, it is a clean but grim place, in a not very nice part of town. Don't wear your best jewellery.
©2009 Anne Morddel