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July 2010

The Land Registry - Le Cadastre

Plan cadastral

In over forty of the links to the left of this page are listed departmental archives with land records online. These land records are usually the plans cadastraux, the cadastres par masses de culture, the cadastres parcellaires, with the tableaux d'assemblage, the états de sections, and the matrices cadastrales. No departmental archives has put all of these on their website, but many have put up at least one set.

The modern French land registry is over two hundred years old and the beautiful maps are its ongoing legacy. There were maps before the Revolution, the most accessible being the Cassini map, but it was after the Revolution, when the new government wanted to tax all those new landowners, that correct maps became urgent. Napoléon was famous for his ability to read and memorize maps and for his obsessive study of them before a battle, so we would only expect it to have been he who founded a national land registry. Initially, only 1800 communes were surveyed and mapped, with the maps showing land cultivation. Created from 1803-1808, these are the cadastres par masses de culture.

The intensive map-making got under way with the law of the 15th of September, 1807, which ordered detailed maps for all the communes of France, les cadastres parcellaires, also known as les cadastres napoléoniens, the Napoléonic maps. These show the boundaries of each commune and the division of it into between three and eight sections, each of which is designated by a letter. The lettering begins at the northernmost point and continues clockwise around the map toward the centre. 

The tableau d'assemblage will group all of the section maps for a commune together. It will show the boundaries, the section letters, main roads, rivers,  forests, etc. The état de sections is the legend to the map, giving for each parcel, in numerical order, the name of the owner, the name of the property, the type and capacity of cultivation, and the revenue. The matrices cadastrales detail the taxable property, from houses and barns, to woods, pasture, heaths, orchards, etc. Each of the matrices cadastrales also has a table alphabétique des propriétaires, an alphabetical list of landowners.

National maps have been updated repeatedly, of course, in 1850, 1898, 1930, 1955, etc. but it is those explained above that are on the departmental archives' websites. They can be used, with a census entry,  to locate exactly where a family lived. The list of landowners can help to find relatives in the same area. The maps can also be used to trace the history of a house:


  • the état de sections will show when the property first was surveyed and added to a map and who the first owner was;
  • then the  alphabetical list of landowners shows the accounts page in the matrice for that property
  • the accounts page in the matrice gives the names and professions of all owners and renters of the property, the dates when the property changed hands, its classification, name, parcel number and revenue.

Google Street View

Although we are charmed by the occasional stories of villagers stoning Google's car with mounted cameras when it begins to film their homes, we have to admit that it can be entertaining to use Street View to look at the address where an ancestor lived. However, do make sure that the building in Street View actually existed at the time it was your ancestor's address!

Finally, we think that the cadastres napoléoniens are very pretty and spice up a genealogy book nicely. 

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Girls at window 3

Much has been discretely written about the unreliability of family trees large and small placed on the internet. Some, of course, are admirable works of research with respectable sources properly recorded. Others are pure fiction. Most of these are obvious and easily spotted. Many, unfortunately, look at first to be the result of scholarly work, but then are revealed to be preposterous rubbish. No fear of rubbish with the small, two or three generation charts available from

The service is very similar to Geneabank, in that it offers extracted information from parish and civil registrations, carefully recorded from microfilms or the originals by the members of genealogy circles. The Fédération Française de Généalogie manages, and there are currently forty-five genealogy circles or associations contributing data. This is half the number of those contributing to Geneabank. Clearly, there is serious competition between the two, for whenever one makes an announcement, the other counters quickly with one of their own:

    "We have 58 million registrations available!"

  "Well, WE have 108, 874, 951 individual names from registrations!" has the upper hand, in our opinion, for they have an easy and sensible payment system (compared with Geneabank's rather clumsy points system), do not require membership to a genealogy circle in France and, best of all, give the information from the registration, or acte d'état civil, in the form of a chart showing relationships, with the data from the registration listed at the end. Additionally, at the bottom will be suggestions for how to use the data to pursue the research further.

At the moment, only the first page has been translated into English. Type in a surname to receive a list of registrations by département number which by now, dear readers, you should have memorised. Select one to see the year, the type of registration and whether there are relatives mentioned. Then select it to buy the full chart and data list. At that point, it is necessary to open an account, or wallet, depositing a minimum of twenty euros by credit card or cheque. Each registration purchased costs two euros. 

This is an excellent and reasonably reliable way to progress one's research.

© 2010 Anne Morddel

French Geealogy

La Bibliothèque nationale - Richelieu

Bib Nat reading room small

The national library of France - la Bibliothèque national de France - being the library of deposit as well as the national collection, is vast. The Richelieu branch, in the Second Arrondissement of Paris, was the main library until the new one of four glass towers was built out in the Thirteenth Arrondissement during François Mitterand's presidency. The ultra modern new library is named for that president, but is always referred to as Tolbiac, for the road that runs by it.

Bib Nat Tolbiac small

A French genealogist could enter to do research and never be able to finish and leave. Typing the word "généalogie" into general catalogue of the entire library brings up almost 45,000 works, from heraldry to family genealogies to genealogy guides. 

Buried in this glorious heap, at the Richelieu building,  are microfilms of manuscripts of the few early parish registers of Paris that have survived. These really are smatterings, and we would not encourage anyone to go through the usual hoops necessary to get inside and view the film unless it is with a fair amount of certainty of success. Unless, like us, you would do anything to be able to use that reading room, la salle Ovale, (top photo), where the microfilm readers are located.

Below are the Paris parishes, years and registrations that can be found at Richelieu:

  • Saint-Roche*
  baptisms, marriages and burials for 1733-1745

marriages for 1785-1791

  • Saint-Eustache
baptisms, marriages and burials for 1529-1748
  • Saint-Sauveur
  baptisms, marriages and burials for 1537-1740
  • Saint-Merry*
extracts of registrations for 1536-1537
  • Saint-Gervais
baptisms, marriages and burials for  1531-1712
  • Saint-Jean-en-Grève
baptisms, marriages and burials for  1515-1713
  • Saint-Paul
baptisms and marriages for 1533-1747 
  •  Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet
baptisms, marriages and burials for 1537-1743 
  •  Saint-Médard*
extracts of registrations for 1544-1640
  • Saint-Sulpice

baptisms, marriages and burials for 1531-1712

baptisms for 1692-1693

marriages for 1544-1651 and for 1719-1725

extracts of registrations for 1604-1714

  • Saint-André-des-Arts
baptisms, marriages and burials for 1525-1746

extracts of registrations for 1528-1724

  • Saint-Louis-des-Invalides
burials for the 17th and 18th centuries

  • La Madeleine*
extracts of registrations for 1720-1744

  • Saint-Honoré*
extracts of registrations for 1602-1711

To give an idea of how slim are the pickings, those marked with an asterisk are all on the same roll of film, which is so short that it barely consumes one fourth of the thickness available on the plastic bobbin. However, for the lucky ones, this is where they will find their Parisian ancestors.


Bibliothèque nationale de France - Richelieu

5, rue Vivienne

75002 Paris

hours: 10.00 - 18.00, Monday to Friday

telephone (+33) 01 53 79 82 80



You will need to register and pay for a reader's card before you can use the library, which is NOT air conditioned.


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Les Vieux Métiers - Bygone Skills

Baker's tile - oven

Loyal and supportive reader, Monsieur V, has suggested that more information about the skills and professions in France long ago would not go amiss. It is true that there are some baffling ones, (and some we wish we had not learnt existed), generally found in civil registers, but also in the census entries and notarial documents. Aigulletier, nacrier, talonnier - what was Grandpapa doing? 

Thus, we here give a few links to specialist lists around the internet:


In using these lists, please surrender all dependency on those online translating tools. They truly are wacky and lead one down a path of ever greater, even hallucinatory befuddlement. Just say no.  Invest in a proper, second-hand, French-English dictionary to help understand the modern terms for the old skills, les vieux métiers, explained on these websites. 

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Hot Summer, Hot Tempers for French Genealogists


French genealogists' tempers are most high, these days. The past ten days, the weather has been insufferably hot, but the genealogists may not have noticed, their rage is so inflamed. Their fury is directed at Notre Famille.

Last month, we reported here that the battle was on to be the first to have commercial control of indexed images of French parish and civil registers. Notre Famille was pressing hard on departmental archives to give their agreement. Not long before that, we explained about the intensive use by genealogy associations of Minitel, a moribund technology. The genealogy sites on Minitel were managed by a company called SWIC, which has been bought by  -- guess who? -- Notre Famille. They have shut down all of the genealogy databases on Minitel (which had to happen anyway, as Minitel is fading fast) and have put all of the extracts onto their own website:, a subscription site.

Why the outrage? These databases are comprised of millions of extracts of names, dates, places and events taken from parish and civil registers in departmental archives before the internet. The work was done by volunteer members of genealogy circles and associations. Initially, the extracts were printed in booklets and sold, thus financing the activities of the circles. Then, with Minitel, the volunteers created the databases and entered all of the data. They charged a small fee for access, which covered the costs of the operation. Now, they feel that their volunteer work has been stolen to be sold for someone else's profit. Of course, Notre Famille says they are not claim-jumping; they are rescuing data that would be lost with the demise of Minitel.

Notre Famille has also applied to receive some of the government's 33 million euro package to encourage research and development, particularly in education. President Toussaint Roze claims that using that money to digitize more of the archives holdings will help to prevent Google's megalomaniacal fingers reaching any deeper into France's heritage. Clever one, that. 

National heritage, la patrimoine, is the term that gets tossed about with high emotion, as more and more people protest that it is being privatised. When we were young, we had the fine fortune to grow up on the shores of a lake of heartbreaking beauty. We spent our summer days at the public beaches, swimming, boating, working our summer jobs. A few years ago, we returned for the first visit in decades, and took our children to the beaches. At one after another, we were told to leave, in one case by an old chum from elementary school, who explained: "There aren't any public beaches anymore, Annie. It's all private." There are fewer and fewer public beaches in Hawaii for the same reason. The town commons in England and in New England is no more. Genealogy in France has been up to now a similar communal sharing of a resource that belonged to all. 

Were this a different country, there would be no doubt as to what the result of this tussle would be, but France is a funny place. The Gallic character is neither Anglo-Saxon nor Latin, and the drama that we are watching will be neither blunt nor operatic; it will follow its own, stunningly weird but perfectly rational logic to the end.

Update: The Association of French Archivists, AAF, has issued a statement firmly against Notre Famille's plans, without naming that company specifically, on the grounds of the privacy violation that such a commercial centralisation of documentation would pose. They point out that Notre Famille has requested from departmental archives permission to make digital copies not only of census records, conscription lists and civil registrations up to 1930, but also :

  • prisoner lists
  • electoral lists
  • lists of foreigners and refugees in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • World War I veterans' cards, with photographs
  • identity cards (which also include photographs) from 1940
  • hospital registers, including those for psychiatric hospitals
No one has yet questioned the archiving of some of these records in the first place. As the subject blossoms into the whole area of individual vs. the state and the state's documentation on an individual vs. privacy, this gets more interesting by the minute.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Alsace-Lorraine Genealogy Basics

Alsace-Lorraine crest

Changes are happening quickly in terms of Alsace-Lorraine research. Even so, we continue to receive communications that indicate a lack of understanding as to just what Alsace-Lorraine is. We have all ready given a brief, oh so brief, history of the region, and numerous discussions of the Optants. (For a much fuller history, see the wikipedia article.) Now, a bit of geography seems to be in order.

Alsace and Lorraine are two areas in eastern France that have often been in western Germany and before that, the Holy Roman Empire.  Being border territories, when the border shifts, so does their legal nationality.  Together, they cover just under 14,500 square kilometers and contain thousands of villages, towns and cities, the largest being Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Metz, Thionville-Hayange and Colmar. The eastern border of the region is formed by the Rhine, a river which locals crossed constantly, for love or money. Much of the other side, during the nineteenth century, was the Grand Duchy of Baden. 

Eight different dialects are spoken in Alsace-Lorraine:


  • Two of  French roots:

Lorrain, in all of the west

       Franc-comtois, in a very limited area of the southwest 

  • Francique méridonal palatin, which is close to High-German, in the northeast
  • Two of  High-German roots:

Alsacien, in all of the east

     Haut-alémanique, in the southeast 

  • Three of  Middle-German roots:

 Francique luxembourgeois, in the northwest

Francique mosellan,  in the north

      Francique rhénan, in the central north

This is a part of the world where French and German identities intermingle. Thus, when researching ancestors from this region, one must recognize this fluidity and expect that documents on the same person could say that he was French or German, came from Alsace or France or Germany or maybe Baden, and that all would be true. Ancestors who said they were French could have spoken a variation of German, and vice versa.


There are no French départements named Alsace or Lorraine, nor are those the names of any villages or towns. Elsass-Lothringen was the German name for the territory after the 1871 annexation. The departments that cover Alsace are Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin. The department that covers Lorraine is la Moselle

Lists of communes can be very helpful in locating an ancestral village:

A few days ago, Haut-Rhin put some of their civil registrations and ten-year indices online. Bas-Rhin is expected to have theirs up some time this month. There seems to be some competition between these two departments, or so the rumours go. Thus, Haut-Rhin, in a rush to be the first of the region, may have not been quite ready to open the database when they did, for it does not work very well. (Competition does not always work in the consumers' favour. Sigh.) Bas-Rhin keeps issuing notices that they are checking, checking, checking, to make sure all is correct before they make their registrations available. The more cautious Moselle is aiming for 2012. The links are in the panel to the left.

Get a map; get some dictionaries; get to work. Enjoy!

Update: the Bas-Rhin parish and civil registers are up, and the site is a joy to use. Well done.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Further Optants Updates

U - Postcard Alsace small

We have only to speak and our words are instantaneously heeded. Barely a month ago, we begged here that someone might scan and index the Bulletin des Lois so that the Optants listings could be read in full. Lo and behold, it has just been done. Of course, the 75,000 hours the job is claimed to have required could indicate that someone had the idea before we voiced it., about which we have written previously, has scanned not only the Optants supplements to the Bulletin des Lois, but all of the volumes, running to more than 300,000 pages. This is a new online resource of incredible value. The official publication of decrees and laws from 1793 to 1931, it contains much, much more. has broken the entirety down into categories that can be searched separately:


  • Naturalisations
  • Military decorations
  • Legion of Honour nominations from 1811 to 1918
  • Pension lists of civil servants 
  • Pension lists of the military.
  • Laws and decrees
  • Patents for inventions
  • Legacies and donations
  • Optants

For those researching French ancestors of the 19th century, this is a boon extraordinaire.  Now, if Géné would only make the website less trashy-looking, it would be more pleasurable to use.


© 2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy