Using the Legion of Honour for Genealogy
The Actes d'Etat Civil - The Acte de Mariage

The Departmental Archives - Les Archives Départementales


After the mayhem of the Revolution and in an effort to restore order and preservation, the Archives Départementales were created by the law of 5 brumaire an V (26 October, 1796, see the post of 17 July on the Republican calendar). Further to their organisation was the law of 28 pluvoise an VIII (17 February, 1800) and another law,  10 mai 1838 (by which time the calendar fun was over).

Like most countries in Europe and unlike the United States, France is not a federation of independent states, but a single republic with a central government. The départements are not states but administrative centres carrying out the laws of the country. The departmental archives in each department are all governed by the Archives de France. This is a blessing for the researcher, for it means that they all have the same indexing system for the same kinds of documentation, and they all have the same administrative structure. Thus, learn the system once and it can be applied throughout the country's archives.

The current classification system, the cadre de classement,  was created in 1841 and modified a bit in 1979. It is used to organise all the holdings of the departmental archives, whether administrative, legal deposits, or donations. The structural groupings are called series and are ordered alphabetically. We give the system in full here so that we will never have to do it again:


Pre-1790 Series,( eg. pre-Revolutionary Archives)

Series A - Acts of sovereign power and public domain

Series B - Courts, jurisdictions, sénéchaussées 

Series C - Provincial administration

Series D - Public education, the sciences and arts

Series E - Archives relating to towns and their administration, notarial records, parish and civil registers, donated family archives

Series F - Various other archives having to do with civil administration

Series G - Archives of the clergy: archbishoprics, bishoprics, parishes, etc.

Series H - Archives of the monastic orders: monasteries, nunneries, military orders, hospitallers

Series I - Various other records having to do with the ecclesiastical archives

Series J - Small and oversize records

Revolutionary  Archives

Series K - Laws and ordinances, cease and desist orders

Series L - Administrations and tribunals during the Revolution (1790-1800)

Modern Archives

Series M - General administration, including administrative personnel, elections, the police, public sanitation, population and economic statistics, agriculture, commerce, tourism, industry and a whole lot more

Series N - Departmental administration and accounting

Series O - Communal (towns and cities) administration and accounting

Series P - Finance, land registry, postal services, water and the forests.

Series Q - State-owned properties, both national and those seized during the Revolution

Series R - Military and wartime archives

Series S - Public works and transport

Series T - Public education, the sciences and arts, the press, sports, culture

Series U - Justice and notarial archives

Series V - Religions and the archives concerning the separation of church and state

Series W - Post 1940 archives, primarily administrative and judicial. Numbers 1-999 are for those archives prior to 1980;  numbers 1000 and above are for those dated after the 1st of  January, 1980

Series X - Public Assistance

Series Y - Prisons and reformatories

Series Z - Sub-prefectures

The Medium Destroys the Logic

The above series are all based on the subject of the archives, which are all stored on paper. Those below are based on the storage medium.

Series Fi - Maps and large plans, historical post cards, portraits, posters

Series Mi - Microfilmed archives

Series Av - Audiovisual archives

For the genealogical hunt, Series E (highlighted in a nice shade of pale lavender) is the starting point, for it contains the parish and civil registers, and the notarial records,  as well as the archives of titled families. Many, many other series may be useful, such as Series B if an ancestor went to court, Series U if an ancestor were a judge or lawyer,  Series T if an ancestor were a professor or teacher or school inspector.

©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Read all of our posts about Departmental Archives here.