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Privacy Restrictions on French Documents

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We have covered this some time ago, but recently have noticed that misinformation on the subject abounds and so, here we go again.

The French, as well as most European nationals, value and protect their privacy. The right to privacy is considered more important than the public's right to know and it is considered more important than the freedom of the press, especially where children are concerned.

Thus, in France, certain documents that contain personal details are closed to public access for a particular period of time. Since 2008, the periods of restriction on access for types of documentation have been as follows:

  • Birth registration / acte de naissance - 75 years
  • Marriage registration / acte de mariage - 75 years
  • Death registration / acte de décès - no restriction
  • Ten-year indices to the above three /  tables décennales - no restriction
  • Census returns / recensements - 75 years
  • Notarial records / actes notariés - 75 years
  • Judicial records / archives judiciaires - 75 years
  • Personnel records / dossier de personnel - 50 years
  • Medical records / secret médical - 25 years after the death of the individual or 120 years after his or her birth

Generally, these limits are calculated from the end of the year and/or the closure of the register. However, sometimes it is possible to obtain a copy of a record for which the limitation date has passed before the end of that year, if one asks nicely.

It is very important to note that public access to the record does not mean that the information may be published. This was confirmed by a court ruling recently. In that case, reported by a Le Monde journalist, a historian had researched over six thousand families, gathering thousands of birth, marriage and death registrations and published a book about them. The people who were the subjects of some of these registrations were still alive. One of the birth registrations contained a marginal note that the child had been adopted. This person was among those still alive and sued the author for having revealed the adoption in his book, which the complainant claimed was a violation of his privacy. The court ruled in his favour.

Thus, though you may request a document once it is available, you may not publish the information in it without the permission of the person it concerns, should he or she be alive. Should you be in the process of writing your French family genealogy with an eye to publishing it, beware! 


©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy