Summer Radio - Madonna et Céline Dion seraient cousines?
The Actes d'Etat Civil - The Acte de Mariage

The Departmental Archives - Les Archives Départementales


After the mayhem of the Revolution and in an effort to restore order and preservation, the Archives Départementales were created by the law of 5 brumaire an V (26 October, 1796, see the post of 17 July on the Republican calendar). Further to their organisation was the law of 28 pluvoise an VIII (17 February, 1800) and another law,  10 mai 1838 (by which time the calendar fun was over).

Like most countries in Europe and unlike the United States, France is not a federation of independent states, but a single republic with a central government. The départements are not states but administrative centres carrying out the laws of the country. The departmental archives in each department are all governed by the Archives de France. This is a blessing for the researcher, for it means that they all have the same indexing system for the same kinds of documentation, and they all have the same administrative structure. Thus, learn the system once and it can be applied throughout the country's archives.

The current classification system, the cadre de classement,  was created in 1841 and modified a bit in 1979. It is used to organise all the holdings of the departmental archives, whether administrative, legal deposits, or donations. The structural groupings are called series and are ordered alphabetically. We give the system in full here so that we will never have to do it again:


Pre-1790 Series,( eg. pre-Revolutionary Archives)

Series AActs of sovereign power and public domain

Series BCourts, jurisdictions, sénéchaussées 

Series CProvincial administration

Series DPublic education, the sciences and arts

Series EArchives relating to towns and their 

administration, notarial records, parish and 

civil registers, donated family archives

Series FVarious other archives having to do with civil


Series GArchives of the clergy: archbishoprics,

bishoprics, parishes, etc.

Series HArchives of the monastic orders: monasteries,

nunneries, military orders, hospitallers

Series IVarious other records having to do with the

ecclesiastical archives

Series JSmall and oversize records

Revolutionary  Archives

Series KLaws and ordinances, cease and desist orders

Series LAdministrations and tribunals during

the Revolution (1790-1800)

Modern Archives

Series MGeneral administration, including

administrative personnel, elections, the police, 

public sanitation, population and economic

statistics, agriculture, commerce, tourism,

 industry and a whole lot more

Series NDepartmental administration and accounting

Series OCommunal (towns and cities) administration

and accounting

Series PFinance, land registry, postal services,

water and the forests.

Series QState-owned properties, both national

and those seized during the Revolution

Series RMilitary and wartime archives

Series SPublic works and transport

Series TPublic education, the sciences and arts,

the press, sports, culture

Series UJustice and notarial archives

Series VReligions and the archives concerning

the separation of church and state

Series WPost 1940 archives, primarily administrative

and judicial. Numbers 1-999 are for those

archives prior to 1980;  numbers 1000 and

above are for those dated after the

1st of  January, 1980

Series XPublic Assistance

Series YPrisons and reformatories

Series ZSub-prefectures

The Medium Destroys the Logic

The above series are all based on the subject of the archives, which are all stored on paper. Those below are based on the storage medium.

Series FiMaps and large plans, historical post cards,

portraits, posters

Series MiMicrofilmed archives

Series AvAudiovisual archives

For the genealogical hunt, Series E (highlighted in a nice shade of pale lavender) is the starting point, for it contains the parish and civil registers, and the military conscription lists,  as well as the archives of titled families. Many, many other series may be useful, such as Series B if an ancestor went to court, Series U if an ancestor was a judge or lawyer,  Series T if an ancestor was a professor or teacher or school inspector.

©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Read all of our posts about Departmental Archives here.