XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - New Genealogy Magazine
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XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Dispenses de Mariage

Permission to marry
One of the most interesting talks that we attended was that by Patrick Vigan on the subject of religious marriage dispensations before the Revolution, "Dispenses religieuses de mariage sous l'Ancien Régime", and their genealogical value. There were various prohibitions to marriage:
  • Between people too closely related, e.g. consanguinity
  • Between godparents and their godchildren
  • For a priest
  • For someone descended from a couple who had had a dispensation to marry


These prohibitions were absolute for people related in a direct line (e.g. parent-child) and to the 3rd, or 4th or 7th degree (depending on the region) for people related collaterally (e.g. cousins). (Lest you think this is archaic, note here the recent story of a woman in Moselle who lives with and wishes to marry her step-son, having divorced his father, and who has been denied a modern dispensation to do so by no less a personage than the President of France.)



The consanguinity caused many requests for dispensations because familial relationships were fluid. A godparent was seen as equal to a parent so to marry one was seen as equal to incest. A brother-in-law was seen as equal to a brother and again, to marry him was seen as equal to incest. (To avoid this latter stumbling block to marriage, it was not unknown for a number of siblings of one family to marry those of another family on the same day, before the marriage of one couple would cause the others to be seen as siblings and their marriage to be prohibited. This tended to occur in small villages where the spousal pickings were slim.) 



The requests for a dispensation will show relationships and genealogies of each of the couple, often with drawings and charts, in such plenitude as to cause a researcher's heart to flutter. Where to find these little joys? They may be in the Vatican; more likely they will be in :



  • The Departmental Archives, Archives départementales, which hold the records of the relevant diocese, usually in Series G
  • The National Archives, Archives nationales, hold those made in Paris, in Series Z1o [not covered by M. Vigan are the modern dispensations: from 1789 to 1860, which are in Series BB15, those post 1860, in Series BB11, and a brief period 1801 to 1808, of dispensations for priests to marry, which are in Series AF IV]


Mr. Vigan emphasized the importance of knowing the diocese of the town or village at the time the dispensation was requested, and then to go to the current Departmental Archives for that diocese. This is not easy, and he generously referred us all to the pages of Andrée Parbelle-Marquet, to solve this problem. She has there two simple maps, one of the one hundred forty dioceses of pre-Revolutionary France and the other of the current departments of France. Mr. Vigan suggested to print both and place one over the other to know which Departmental Archives will have the records of which diocese. Yet even with this, there will be certain tricky places, for example: Creuse had no diocese and one must look to Limoges; another: the diocese of Sens covered what are now three modern departments.

It was an excellent talk, very well attended. Mr. Vigan received a deserved ovation when he finished. This brings to a conclusion our discussion of the 22nd Congress. The 23rd Congress is scheduled for the 2nd to the 4th of October, 2015, at Poitiers, with the theme being "Poitou et Nouvelle France".

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy