You will find in our book, in the section about the French census:
The taking of a nation-wide census of individuals, les recensements or les dénombrements, began in France in 1836 and has been repeated every five years since then, except when locally fought wars disrupted the scheduling (the Franco-Prussian War and the two World Wars). And then there was Paris, where census-taking did not begin before 1926.
So many of you, Dear Readers, find it to be frustrating that there are no earlier listings of French souls. We must never forget the taxman, who surely meant no favours, but has left a gift to genealogists of posterity just the same.
In 1791, when France was in the throes of her Revolution, the contributions directes were established. This is the title of a group of three types of taxes:
- Contribution foncière - a land tax
- Contribution mobilière - a buildings tax
- Patente - a tax based on one's profession or business
A fourth, the impôt sur les portes et fenêtres - a tax on doors and windows - was added in 1798. These formed the basis of the French tax system for the next century, until they were replaced by the income tax in 1917.
As a part of this tax collection process, each commune, every city, town and village, was required to make a matrice, or list of taxpayers, their addresses and professions. The matrice for Belvès, a small village, runs to nearly one hundred pages. As can be seen here, in many rural cases, nothing more than the name and the amount due were actually written.
In essence, these serve as an early census of those with something to pay and as France was quite strapped then, everyone had to pay. Of additional points of value there are three:
- Many, many "known as" names, dit, are given, which could help a researcher clear up some confusion.
- In rural areas, it is possible to deduce many family relationships from the repeated names among neighbours, which further research could then verify or not, bien sûr.
- As this was just as the mass emigration of aristocrats - les émigrés - was taking place, many of them had not yet left and appear on the lists, as can be seen in the disproportionate amount due from Monsieur Henry [de] Lostanges of Belvès (who died in London):
To our knowledge, these are not online. Generally, the matrices are found not in the Departmental Archives but in the municipal or communal archives, that is to say, they will be in the town hall, in Series G. However, the actual tax and payment records will be in the Departmental Archives in Series L and Series P.
Alas, if you do not know where your ancestor lived, this will not be of much help, but if you do, these will help you to discover more.
©2015 Anne Morddel