In terms of yielding genealogical information, French cemeteries are a mixed bag. The custom of individual graves with individual markers is not very common in France. Much more common is the family tomb or mausoleum, giving only the surname(s). Thus, while a stroll through a cemetery in America can yield some very interesting discoveries of relationships or unknown family members, this is unlikely to happen with a stroll through a French cemetery, though there can be some lucky finds. The photos below are characteristic of a family mausoleum giving nothing more than the surname, one showing three surnames (no individuals are identified inside), and a tomb with the names of individuals. The first two are quite common; the last is rare.
Pity, as it makes walking and transcribing a cemetery dull work, while in America it can be quite a lovely way to spend a day. We tried it once with our daughter in a small cemetery in Dordogne. The tedium of writing famille this and famille that was relieved by a chatty widow in green trousers who followed us around and told us all of the scandals of the dead.
Most cemeteries have a list of all burials, though they are not always complete. The lists are yearly. The older lists will be in the communal archives, in series M or N. Some may be at the Departmental Archives, in series O. They may also be at the Bureau de la Conservation within the cemetery, if there is one. The lists are supposed to have the names of the deceased and the date the body was interred, thus giving more information than a simple family tomb. In Paris, all lists for all Parisian cemeteries have been grouped at Père-Lachaise. It is the right of the public to see these lists on demand. However, do not try it. Usually, no one is there, and if someone is present, you will be sent away anyway. It is recommended to write and ask for the information, giving as much detail as possible as to name, date of death, probable cemetery, etc. The address for queries for any burial in Paris or the old departement of Seine is:
Bureau des Cimetières
16 rue de Répos
©2009 Anne Morddel