The Actes d'Etat Civil - The Acte de Mariage
Paris Hospital Archives

The Actes d'Etat Civil - Finding Them

The actes d'état civil may be wonderfully informative, but one has to find them first. As always, the first step is not who but where. You must have the location of the birth or death or marriage to be able to start your search. With that, you can find the correct department (listed in order on the panel to the left).

Tables annuelles and tables décennales

Within the department, find next the commune. Within the commune, if the year of the event is not known, the creators of the actes d'état civil have come to the rescue with the tables annuelles and the tables décennales. At the end of every year, the registrar, or officier de l'état civil, is required to make a list of the names and dates of each of the categories of event: birth, death, marriage.  The list will be in alphabetical order, with a reference to the entry number. These are the tables annuelles

Every ten years, since the états civils were begun, the registrar is required to list all names in each category, alphabetically (or at least grouped by letter and then chronologically), giving first name, last name and date.  These are the tables décennales, also referred to as the TD. An example of a TD for marriages is given here:

Example TD

With the correct date, it will then be possible to go to the correct register. Thus, if you have a place and a name, it is possible to find the acte d'état civil. Each acte d'état civil is such a treasure trove of information that it is usually then possible to trace a line back to the mid-1600s.

How to access the actes d'état civil

There are by law two locations where the actes d'état civil are kept: in the Archives départementales,  in series E, and in the Mairies (the Town Halls). In some localities, there are little disputes between the two and either one or the other will have the originals. Either will send a copy on request if the precise name, commune and date are given (research is not on offer). It is against the law to charge for a copy of an acte, but the person making the request must send a self-addressed, stamped envelope. 

Increasingly, the Departmental Archives are putting their holdings online, to which access is almost always free. Some Mairies have online request forms. They will send an e-mail to say whether or not they have found the requested acte and if so, will ask for stamps to be sent. (However, some departments, such as Finistère, refuse to send copies, even when very precise information is given.) To find the Mairie's website, try  this very useful link, which is also in English, (click on the British flag)  for finding the addresses of the Mairies.

It is possible to request actes d'états civils online at: Actes d'état civil en ligneThis is a link to communes which will accept online requests but does not include the whole country. 

When the actes d'état civil are available

The law of access is very strict, in order to protect the privacy of living individuals and their families. For consultation by the general public:

  • electoral lists are available immediately
  • censuses naming the individuals may be seen after 30 years 
  • police files may be seen after 60 years 
  • actes d'état civil and notarial records may be seen after 100 years from the date of the record. 
  • court judgements may be seen 100 years after the closure of the case 
  • personnel files may be seen 120 years after the birth of the person of the file 
  • medical records may be seen 150 years after the birth of the person who is the subject of the file  

Just now, there is a great deal of complaining going on because the CNIL, the national body that concerns itself with computers, society, and privacy, has decided that the actes d'état civil that have been put online by the Archives Départmentales must be not 100 but 120 years old to be viewed. Researchers and genealogists are furious at this imposition by a body that does not have the authority, but there it stands.

Which type of copy to request: copie intégrale, extrait avec filiation, extrait sans filiation?

It is possible to ask for three different types of reproduction of an acte d'état civil

  • The copie intégrale is a true and complete photocopy of the registration, with a certifying stamp from the official who made it. This is what the genealogist wants to request.
  • The extrait avec filiation is a form completed by the officer showing the name of the person and close relatives such as parents or children, named in the document. This is what the individual might request when they want to avoid reproducing all those notes in the margin.
  • The extrait sans filiation simply shows that person X was born, married or has died, and gives no other information. This gives the maximum amount of privacy and the minimum amount of information.

©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy