When the French government secularized the registration of births, marriages and deaths, by creating the actes d'état civil, they also required the parishes and dioceses across the country to deposit in the newly created departmental archives the registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials that had been kept by priests for over two hundred years. That does not mean that the Catholic Church of France stopped maintaining registers of catholicity. Copies are still deposited with the departmental archives, but the originals are usually retained by the parish.
In French genealogical research, there is a slight roadblock concerning more recent generations in that the civil registrations may not be made available to the public. The law states that birth and marriage registrations may not be seen until seventy-five years after the event. It used to be one hundred years and some departmental archives adhere to this old rule. For those researching in the last hundred years, this is a problem.
Additionally, the websites of the archives are not putting up parish registers made after the Revolution, for those are considered private records. (Those made before the Revolution were done so at the orders of the King and so, were government records.) In no case will the departmental archives do research and send a copy of the records.
Parish and diocesan archives may resolve both issues. They will provide recent records and they will send them to you. One must write a letter. One must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, as well as two French first-class stamps per document requested. (Buy them online from La Poste.) Rarely, one must be prepared to write a cheque (in euros -write back negotiating a deal with stamps). One must be prepared to justify one's request, even to be rebuffed testily.
There is no centralized archive of registrations of catholicity. Each diocese maintains its own and generally their archives contain records only from the present back to 1900. The parish archives will contain anything older. The information that must be provided is:
- Year of birth
- Year of baptism or marriage
- Residence at the time of the baptism or marriage
- Parish in which the event took place, and the church
A map of the current dioceses of France can be found on the Church's website. By clicking on a diocese, one is taken to its website, where the parishes can be found (not always easily.) The website of the Association of Church Archivists, Association des Archivistes de l'Eglise de France, has in the panel to the left of their welcome page the Annuaire des Archivistes Diocésains, the directory/address book of all the diocesan archivists in France.
©2010 Anne Morddel